Move over, rosé: Exploring the lesser-known wines of Navarra

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

12 March 2019

The Spanish wine landscape boasts an extensive and extremely diverse lineup of producing regions, from well-known, top-quality ones such as Rioja and Priorat, to the likes of Rías Baixas and Bierzo, which have more recently made an appearance on the UK market.

Navarra, bordering Rioja to the north, has long been known by British consumers for its fruit-driven rosés. However, it’s recently been making a name for itself with well-priced reds and whites. Garnacha is the principal grape used in the region’s rosés, but it's key to its reds too – especially those showing purity of fruit and freshness, best consumed when young.

Other red grapes play a significant role in Navarra’s red wine production: from the ‘local’ Tempranillo, to international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Chardonnay makes some of the most interesting Navarra whites, but the Spanish Viura and Garnacha Blanca are also present, and together with Moscatel, are used for sweet wine production.

The latest Wines from Spain tasting, held at London’s Sky Garden last week, was the ideal occasion for us to sample some of Navarra's newest labels on the market, as well as old favourites. We selected five of the best, ranging from fruity, young reds, to a single pago and a beefy reserva.

Bodegas Aroa, Vintae Le Naturel 2018

A Garnacha-led blend made with high-altitude, organically grown grapes from the northern end of the region.

The result is a fresh nose of raspberries, with an added funkiness and floral touches. The palate shows notes of dark berries such as blackcurrant and blackberries, and a bright, crisp acidity.

£10.99, Vintae Luxury Wine Specialists

Pago de Larrainzar Ángel de Larrainzar 2017

Another fresh, youthful expression, this time made with a blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha. The wine pays homage to the winemaking family's ancestor, Angel Larrainzar, who first planted wines on the property in the mid-19th century. 

The value for money is impressive here: the liquid is full of intense red fruits, sour cherry and a supple savouriness. Good acidity and smooth tannins make for a round yet well-structured palate.

£8.34, Georges Barbier of London

Bodega Otazu, Pago de Otazu Chardonnay 2014

This wine is made in one of Navarra’s three pagos, or estates, which are granted a special DO – essentially along the same lines as a Burgundian grand cru. Otazu works mainly with international grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the reds, Chardonnay for the whites) but has a fair amount of Tempranillo too. 

The Pago de Otazu Chardonnay is a lean, mineral expression of the grape, with defined citrus and apple notes, hints of green melon and well-integrated oak. Simply one of Navarra’s top whites.

£35, Buckingham Schenk

Bodegas Ochoa, Reserva 2010

Ochoa is a sizable family business of 145ha planted to nine different grape varieties. The Reserva is made with Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with grapes coming from three of the Ochoa’s vineyards: El Secadero, La Milla and Montijo. The wine rests in a mix of French and American oak for 15 to 18 months, then seven years in bottle before release.

There's no rush here, and this patience pays off. The nose is fragrant and appealing, led by fresh fruit with characteristic sour cherry and red plum notes and just a hint of tertiary aromas. One for cellaring, with lots to say in the next decade or so.

£18.90, Amathus Drinks

Bodegas Chivite, Colección 125 Vendimia Tardía 2016

Yes, Navarra makes excellent sweet wines too. See this one as the Spanish answer to France’s Muscat Beaumes-de-Venise.

The Moscatel grapes to make this wine come from El Candelero vineyard and have been picked at 12 different stages between October and December. The must is then barrel-fermented in French oak where it’s also matured for five months. 

The nose is complex and bright, with aromas of acacia flowers, orange and lemon peel and nuts; on the palate it is sweet yet balanced by fresh acidity, showing an delicate note of honey and dried figs on the finish.

£24.50/50cl, Enotria&Coe

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