This diverse region struggles to compete against Spain's most powerful brand, Rioja. Is it time to forgo the emphasis on 'serious' red blends and international whites so that its native varieties can come to the fore? Adam Lechmere reports...
Navarra: Six producers to watch
The 60-year-old vineyard at Bodegas y Vinedos Artazu, planted with garnacha
Superlative 4,000-case operation run by Enrique Basarte and Elisa Ucar (former export director for Chivite) in Montaña Baja. The self-confessed Garnacha lovers are convinced the Atlantic influence and 700m altitude of their vineyards give the best expression to the grape. Their La Dama is one of the very best wines I tasted in Navarra, with wonderfully complex, perfumed fruit and ripe tannins. Lupier is at the vanguard of sensitive, small-scale production in the region.
Ultra-modern, 230ha, family-owned winery started in 1999. A slick 1.5m bottle operation sourcing grapes from all over Navarra, with a huge range of wellmade though rather characterless wines made from international varieties: fresh Sauvignon Blancs and Garnacha rosés. But at the top end it’s a different story – the Laderas Graciano and the Quatrocientos Crianza (a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Graciano blend) have real class and typicity.
In the far north of Navarra in the Nekeas Valley in Valdizarbe, this former co-operative is now owned by seven families. The vineyards sit at altitudes of 450-650m and higher; the Sierra Perdón to the northeast forming a barrier against cold winds sweeping down from the Pyrenees. Very much an outward-looking operation, 90% of the wines are exported. Nekeas produces a superb and diverse range of reds, ranging from modern, fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blends to the tarry, tannic El Chaparral Garnacha: ‘The old taste of the valley’, as export manager Carlos Biurrun puts it.
Bodegas Julián Chivite
Navarra’s only bona fide first growth, Chivite was founded in 1647 and has been run by the Chivite family for 11 generations. Chivite today produces wine in Rioja, Rueda and Ribera del Duero as well as Navarra, where its Señorío de Arínzano is a vino de pago and therefore not part of DO Navarra. Gran Feudo is its only true Navarra label: the brand spans affordable, classy Chardonnay, Garnacha rosé and blends from Tempranillo, Cabernet, Merlot and Garnacha. ‘Chivite in Navarra is Gran Feudo,’ says export director José Maria Níeves.
Family-owned for 160 years, Adriana Ochoa is the sixth-generation winemaker, farming 145ha to produce a typical Navarran range of whites, rosés and red blends. It is the reds that are worth searching out, the single-varietal Tempranillos and Gracianos. The Tempranillo- Merlot-Cabernet reservas and gran reservas all show bright, lifted fruit and brisk acidity. Everything is machine-harvested. ‘We couldn’t do by hand what we do by machine,’ Ochoa says. ‘From vineyard to winery takes 45 minutes.’
Bodegas y Viñedos Artazu
Part of renowned winemaker Juan Carlos López de Lacalle’s Rioja-based Artadi group, Artazu specialises in Garnacha from 60-year-old vineyards in Artazu in Valdizarbe. Described by Berry Bros as a ‘punctilious craftsman’ with ‘alchemical gifts’, López de Lacalle – whose top Riojas command £100 price tags – produces a trio of Navarra wines, the finest of which is the Santa Cruz de Artazu, a superb modern style with sweet lifted fruit and fine, juicy tannins.