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A word to anyone visiting the Navarra region outside high summer – pack your layers. Pamplona, the region’s capital, is cold in the Autumn and Spring; the region’s high altitude, northern vineyards similarly chilly. It snowed there on 1 April, the day I left Navarra after my 2022 visit.

As well it might, because Navarra is, and feels, northern. It’s not far from the Spanish border with France, and with vineyards planted as high as 650m, and westerly winds blasting across the most northerly zones, it can deliver wines with distinctive freshness and elegance. That said, head to the more southerly areas of Navarra and those layers may not be needed – here it is much warmer and less windy. As a consequence, the region produces a range of wines, not only because of those big differences in climate and altitude (there can be Atlantic, Mediterranean AND Continental influences, depending on where the grapes are grown) but also because Navarra fields a large team of many grape varieties, both Spanish and international. Here the French influence is felt in grapes such as chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

The bright, fruity freshness of Marco Real’s Pequeñas Producciones Chardonnay 2021, made from the La Pared estate vines in the Ribera Alta sub-region, puts paid to the idea that all Spanish chardonnays are rich and oaky. It’s unoaked, succulent with crisp acidity but ripe grapefruit, lemon and pineapple.

Another of my favourite Navarra whites is Nekeas 25 Vendimias Garnacha Blanca 2021. This time the fruit comes from the northerly sub-region of Valdizarbe and from vineyards growing at 500m above sea level. No wonder then that the wine tastes of cool orchard fruit – yellow apples and crisp pears – not rich tropical ones. It’s a beautifully balanced wine with a slightly rounded texture and a hint of salt.

Navarra used to be famous for its rosados above all else and I have long enjoyed their bright colours, ripe aromas and flavours. A wine such as Señorio de Sarria Cinco Garnacha Vinas Vieja Rosado 2021, with its deep cerise hue and vivacious notes of raspberry sorbet and red cherry, makes a refreshing change from the many pale Provence rosés which crowd our shelves. Note that is dry, despite those juicy qualities. It also comes from Valdizarbe, from vineyards grown 450m high. Navarra does produce paler, more delicate rosés too (yet more options from this versatile region), but my choice is usually a bold and deeper pink like this.

As for reds, they also come in many styles, but the most exciting of the moment for me, is the more restrained, elegant expression of garnacha. Principe de Viana Albret La Loma Garnacha 2020 is made with fruit from a single vineyard on poor loam soils in Ribera Alta. It’s got very subtle oak, and is wonderfully fresh and lively, a wine bursting with black cherries and plums. I chill it lightly before drinking to bring out its succulent fruitiness.

And for traditionalists, there are still rich, oaky reds to enjoy. In Navarra these are often blends of Spanish and international grapes, as in the case of Raso de Larrainzar Reserva 2014, made from a cosmopolitan blend of 43% tempranillo, 32% merlot, 13% cabernet sauvignon and 12% garnacha. Aged in French oak (Navarra generally favours French oak over Rioja’ preferred American), the result is an aromatic, robustly flavoured red of cassis and plum balanced with fresh acidity, sprinkles of spice and a whiff of smoke. A fine match for red meat, roast lamb especially.

Next time: delving into Navarra’s history

NOVEMBER 16, 2022


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