Best known for its annual bull-running festival in Pamplona and its acres of white asparagus, red peppers and succulent artichokes, Navarra is also home to some of the world’s oldest garnacha vines – offering drinkers some of Spain’s best value reds.
Beautiful rugged Navarra, stretching from the high Pyrenees in Spain’s Basque country down to the sandy banks of the River Ebro, is a fascinatingly diverse wine region – but few in the UK have discovered the wines.
This is because Navarra is completely overshadowed by its larger neighbour, Rioja. If you were to compare the two regions side by side, Navarra reds tend to have slightly higher acidity and more structure on the palate – this derives from the more mountainous terrain and higher altitude vineyards.
Some 90 per cent of Navarra’s wines are red. Undoubtedly the best Navarra wines are made from the gnarled old garnacha vines – but in the UK, Navarra is still best known for its cheap easy-going garnacha-based rosés.
Many of the best-known wineries have been in the same family for generations, like Bodegas Ochoa who make excellent Gran Reserva reds. Bodegas Julian Chivite has been in the family since 1647, but today it makes wine across Spain from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Rueda as well as Navarra.
Some of the best wines I have tasted in Navarra are made by Bodegas Artazuri – a good example of how Navarra has benefited from outsiders.
Vintages vary in Navarra – with the best recent vintage being 2010; buy up any bottles you can find. 2012 is ripe and succulent, whilst the cooler 2013 vintage offers fresh, youthful crunchier fruits.
Taste The Difference Sierra De Andia Navarra 2013
This typifies the best of the cheaper end of Navarra reds: bright, fresh, juicy fruits which remind me of a warm, peppery, sweet southern Italian red, rather than anything else from Spain. Good value as an undemanding easy quaffer.
Vina Zorzal Garnacha Joven 2014 - STAR BUY
Tasters loved the smooth, juicy, crunchy black and red fruits in this light easy-quaffing unoaked garnacha. This shows what good value Navarra garnacha can be. A fantastic buy at under £7.
£6.50, The Wine Society; IndigoWines,
Vina Zorzal Graciano 2014
Graciano is an interesting grape with spicy aromas, higher acidity and firm tannins, but in my opinion it does not quite work on its own here in the cool 2013 vintage; it would be better to have included some garnacha to soften the blend. Tasters found this too austere, taut and bitter on the finish.
£6.95, The Wine Society
San Antolin Reserva Navarra 2005 Bodegas Sarria - STAR BUY
Good to find a supermarket selling a Navarra red with some age; this is mellow and savoury with sweet, warm, spicy flavours on the palate. A smooth easy blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and graciano – this would suit anyone who normally searches out Rioja bargains. Watch out for regular promotions.
El Chaparral De Vega Sindoa Old Vine Garnacha 2013 Bodegas Nekeas
For many years this has been my staple value Navarra red, but in the cooler 2013 vintage it has a bit more structure and less complexity in comparison to past vintages. El Chaparral’s name comes from the Chaparros oak forests near Nekeas valley.
£7.99/£8.99, Majestic Wine
Vina Zorzal Malayeto Garnacha 2013 - STAR BUY
This single vineyard garnacha is a more powerful, spicier wine than Vina Zorzal’s softer unoaked Joven (left) from higher altitude vineyards. It was a high scorer for tasters who love big reds; with spicy, peppery, dense fruits. An intense and concentrated garnacha.
£9.95, The Wine Society
Artazuri Garnacha 2013 Bodegas Artazuri - STAR BUY
Very popular with drinkers at our recent Spanish tasting who loved its liquorice, damson and bitter chocolate flavours and light cedary undertones from four months’ French oak. Its depth of flavour and velvet smooth palate eclipsed Riojans at twice the price in the tasting. Made by the legendary Juan Carlos Lopez de Lacalle in Navarra, who made his name with his Riojan Bodegas Artadi. Brilliant wine – affordable and approachable – buy it if you can find it.
£11.99, Berry Bros & Rudd; Ocado
Tierga Pura Garnacha 2010 Bodegas La Calandria
Winemaker Javier Continente wanted to make a wine which stained his lips purple. He has certainly succeeded with this blockbuster red. Very intense, densely packed ‘organic’ garnacha with a long lingering finish. A very good wine – but watch out for the alcohol level of 15 per cent (the 2008 vintage has 16 per cent) and price tag.
£31.95, Berry Bros & Rudd
• Join Rose’s Taste of Scotland Food & Wine Tasting at the Abode Hotel, Bath Street, Glasgow, on Friday, 1 July, £40, www.rosemurraybrown.com