Navarra’s journey to express itself

By Kristen Bieler, The Beverage Journal

Located right between Rioja and Bordeaux, DO Navarra benefits from a very special geographical situation in northern Spain, with vineyards stretching from the foothills of the Pyrenees to the high Ebro Valley. This veteran Spanish region, with official status dating back to the 1930s, has through the decades built a strong reputation based on distinctive rosés, made mainly with Grenache and applying the selective method of saignée.

Being in the shadow of Rioja, its famous neighbor doesn’t help. Navarra also has no single signature grape or style. The decision made decades ago to focus on dry, refreshing Rosado (rosé), proved wise economically, but hasn’t helped the region’s reputation as a source of serious red wines.

Yet there are signs that Navarra is changing course as a new generation of winemakers is making important quality-driven changes in vineyards and cellars. “Today’s winemakers are taking the lessons learned from their grandparents and combining them with innovation and a renewed respect for nature,” says David Palacios, President of D.O. Navarra, adding that women now make up half of the region’s winemakers and winery directors.

The Evolution Of Identity

“Every region in Spain has had to move away from massive blending and cheap wine production; when you think about what Navarra has achieved since the mid-20th century under Franco’s totalitarian regime, it’s magnificent,” said Gil Avital, Partner/Wine Director at Tertulia in NYC’s West Village, who was part of a panel that Beverage Media recently hosted to taste through a range of Navarra’s wines.

Because of its particular location, Navarra has a huge asset in vine growing: a mosaic of terroirs with varied climate conditions, explained panelist Robin Kelley O’Connor, sommelier/writer/wine judge, who knows the region intimately: “It’s rare to taste a wine and exclaim, ‘Oh, this is Navarra!’ which is partly a result of the geographic diversity. In cooler northern areas you see light, fresh reds with natural acidity, and in the south, it’s continental and hot and abuts a desert—the wines are bigger with more robust tannins.”


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