While you may think that you don’t know Navarra, it’s likely that you’ve heard of its capital, Pamplona, home to the running of the bulls festival about which Ernest Hemingway wrote so eloquently in The Sun Also Rises (1926), a paean to his love for Spain—and its wine.
Tellingly, it was Hemingway who reputedly said, “My only regret in life is that I did not drink more wine.” An understandable sentiment for someone who spent a good deal of time in Navarra, an autonomous region of northern Spain, whose vineyards stretch from the foothills of the snow-capped Pyrenées to the Ebro river and the sun-drenched, desert-like plains in the southeast.
Few wine regions in the world offer Navarra’s wide variety of styles in one viticultural area—and even fewer can compete at the modest price point for such a high level of quality. All of which make Navarra wines a satisfying complement to holiday meals. Best of all, at these prices, you can drink more and never have to feel as Hemingway did about not drinking enough good wine.
As a wine-producing region, Navarra has remained significant since the Roman Empire, with historical ties to France and Theobald II, Count of Champagne, whose residence is now owned by Taittinger. While the region is well-known for Tempranillo, which has become Spain’s signature grape (thanks to its stellar presence in the wines of Rioja), the various climates of the wine-growing region of D.O. Navarra enable the cultivation of a wide range of grape varietals including Garnacha (or Grenache), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, as well as Chardonnay.
For the culinary arts, Navarra is considered by many as the garden of Spain, notable for its top quality produce such as piquillo peppers, asparagus, and artichokes, as well as its excellent sheep’s milk cheeses like Roncal and Idiazábal.
Bodegas Ochoa 2014: Perhaps the most ubiquitous Navarra blend is Tempranillo and Garnacha, one of the most pleasing of which is offered by Bodegas Ochoa, a winery with viticultural antecedents to 1370.
As the personal winemaker to the King of Navarra and his royal court for nearly 500 years, Bodegas Ochoa was located within the walled city of Olite. Today, the family-owned vineyard encompasses 358 acres operated by winemaker Javier Ochoa and his daughter Adriana who was designated Best Young Female Winemaker in Spain by various Spanish and British wine magazines.
With equal parts Tempranillo and Garnacha, the dark ruby Bodegas Ochoa 2014 gives off aromas of blackberry and leather with flavors of plum and black tea—and a hint of black walnut. The wine’s soft finish is redolent of raspberry. Consider drinking this one with cheeses, as well as Thanksgiving stuffing with chestnuts.
Vega del Castillo Capa Roja Tempranillo 2013 Roble: Founded in 1911, Bodegas Vega del Castillo maintains more than 1000 acres of vineyards amidst a diversity of microclimates that are reflective of Navarra. With a production capacity of 7 million liters per year, Vega del Castillo is fourth in volume in the Navarra D.O. region.
Aged four months in oak barrels and an additional three months in the bottle, Capa Roja Tempranillo 2013 Roble received a gold medal in the 2016 Berliner Wein Trophy. Bold and nicely-structured, this intense Tempranillo offers plum and licorice notes lightly touched with spicy black fruits and a hint of vanilla, making this wine a pleasant partner for the richer components of a holiday banquet.
Bodega Inurrieta Cuatrocientos Crianza 2011: Located 45 minutes south of Pamplona, Bodega Inurrieta was named for the location of the vineyards grown by the family Antoñana, the current owners of the 593-acre winery which was founded in 1999. A microclimate of Mediterranean and continental influences enables the cultivation of six grape varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Garnacha, Graciano, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.
A silver medal winner with 90 points at Mundus Vini 2014, Bodega Inurrieta Cuatrocientos Crianza 2011 is a robust ruby-red blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged for 15 months in French and American oak barrels, this elegantly dark wine offers a pleasant amalgam of Spanish and French styles. A black forest fruit bouquet commingles with cinnamon-spiced chocolate and firewood. There’s power on the palate, with juicy notes of black cherries and dark chocolate espresso. A straightforward wine with well-rounded tannins, the velvety length on the palate provides a lovely complement to the rich bounty of holiday tables.
Castillo de Monjardin: Named for the 9th-century castle of Monjardin, Castillo de Monjardin sits in the foothills of the Pyrenées, not so far from the French border. The proximity to France has enabled a viticulture distinct from other regions of Spain, particularly in regards to Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
Pale yellow in color with hints of green, the unoaked Chardonnay Castillo de Monjardin 2015 exhibits aromas of green apple and Bosc pear. Vibrant and lively, this clean and dry wine hits the mouth with the freshness of crisp autumn fruit.
Amidst the plentitude of holiday meals, this classic 100% Chardonnay is smooth and refreshing on the palate—and particularly when paired with a pasta such as a pumpkin sage risotto or a butternut soup. An excellent buy at this price point, Castillo de Monjardin “El Cerezo” has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a Bacchus Silver Medal in Madrid in 2014.