Navarra is a north-eastern region bordering the Basque country, Rioja and Aragon and covering a large area extending 100 km southwards from Pamplona. Its exceptional location, convergence of climates, landscapes, and diverse grape palette, make Navarra a fascinating wine region.
The French connection
The reputation of Navarra blossomed during the late Middle Ages. Due to their proximity to the Pyrenees, the pilgrimages along the Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago) and their historical ties with France. Which explains the influence of French techniques and grape varieties on the region.
Navarra fell under French control in the 13th century, with Teobaldo I of Champagne proclaimed King of Navarra in 1234. New viticultural practices and the two main Champagne grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir) were introduced into the region during the period.
Later on, during the phylloxera crisis in France in mid 19th century, Navarra experienced an even greater increase in demand for its wines. And similarly, as in Murcia a number of French winemakers decided to cross the Pyrenees and relocate to the region.
A well-assorted grape palette, with focusing back on Garnacha
For many years the region was celebrated for its “rosados” (rosé wines), made from Garnacha. From this 90% of Navarra’s vined land was planted with this grape in the 1970s. But then a handful of producers started experimenting with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, so Garnacha lost considerable ground to these introduced foreign varieties. Nevertheless, it’s still the second most-planted grape (24% of plantings), only behind Tempranillo (33%), followed by Cabernet Sauvignon (15%) and Merlot (14%).
And similar to other wine regions in Spain, Garnacha is being rediscovered by a new generation of winemakers reclaiming and rehabilitating old vineyards, and producing world-class, terroir-driven wines worth a closer look.
Diversity of climates, landscapes and wines
Navarra enjoys the benefits of an exceptional location. The proximity of the Bay of Biscay, the influence of the Pyrenees to the north, the “Bardenas Reales” desert to the south, and the temperate influence of the Ebro Valley, results in a unique confluence of Atlantic, Continental and Mediterranean climates (from north to south).
This great diversity of climates and growing conditions allows this small region to produce a wide range of wine styles from its well-assorted diversity of native and international varieties. Very few wine regions can offer this level of quality in such an extensive range of styles: white, rosé, red and sweet.
DOP Navarra: five subzones capturing the region’s great diversity
Situated in the north-east, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It’s characterized by a steep-sloped landscape. Which leads to fruit-forward, deep-coloured “rosados” and red wines with bright acidity.
Principal grapes: Garnacha and Tempranillo
Situated in the north-west of the region, and bordering the Basque Country and La Rioja. It has the highest average altitude within the region and a notable Atlantic influence. Their wines are aromatic, fresh, with crisp acidity and mineral character. Ageing potential.
Principal grapes: Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Located in the north-central area of the region. This is the most humid area, with the Arga River flowing through the area, resulting in a landscape of gentle hills and valleys. The wines are characterized by bright and aromatic whites and rosés. Intense, balanced reds, aging well.
This subzone grows the most diverse grape palette in Navarra: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Malvasía.
With a more inland location, the climate here is continental, with more extreme temperatures both in summer and winter with lower humidity when compared to the northern zones. Distinguished by a gradually flattening landscape with high terraces as you go further south. Wines produced here are medium-bodied with intense colour and a good ageing potential.
Primary grapes are Tempranillo, Graciano, Chardonnay and Moscatel de Grano Menudo (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains)
Mediterranean influence: semi-arid, with hot summers and moderate winters
The most southern sub-zone, near Navarras second largest city, Tudela. Its situated in the Ebro basin between Aragón and La Rioja, with the Sierra del Moncayo mountain range to the south and the “Bardenas Reales” desert 25 km to the east. From the landscapes and the dominating presence of the mountain range this zone is hot, and under the influence of the Mediterranean Sea. Here you can find a great range of fuller bodied wines.
The primary grapes are Tempranillo, Garnacha, Viura and Moscatel are planted here.
Very few wine regions can offer this level of quality in such a wide range of styles: white, rosé, red and sweet, and with so many grape varieties involved, both native and international. Don’t miss the traditional Garnacha-based “rosados”.What are the most popular grape varieties in Navarra?
Native Tempranillo and Garnacha dominate, with international Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot completing the red palette. Chardonnay is the principal white grape, followed by the native Viura.What types of food works well with wines from Navarra?
Lighter, fruity reds: Charcuterie, terrines, local Roncal cheese. Fuller reds: Game stews, local “Cordero de Navarra” (lamb). Rosados (rosés): Roast or tandoori chicken, grilled vegetables, local Piquillo red peppers. Whites: Salt cod, risottos, grilled fish, local Idiazábal cheese.