Navarra is an up and coming wine region in Northern Spain located in the western part of the Pyrenees Mountains that form a natural boundary between France and Spain with the Basque mountains further to the West. Navarra butts up against France to the north and to the south is Rioja, famous for Tempranillo.
To the far west is coastal Galicia, famous for Albarino and the terminus for the Camino de Santiago, or “The Way” which winds through northern Spain as well as France and Portugal.
Pilgrims on the Camino, past and present, enjoy the regional wine and cuisine along “The Way” and many return with an increased appreciation and interest in these wines.
While wine from Rioja has generally been available and known in the United States, recently there’s been an explosion of imports of Albarino from Galicia, and now it is Navarra’s turn to be discovered by those on and off the Camino.
This month’s Wine Pairing Weekend crew took on the task of sampling one or more bottles of wine from Navarra and paired them with either regional cuisine or another menu inspired by the wines. The 15 participants this month sampled reds, whites, and rose wines ranging from the traditional reds of the region like Tempranillo and whites like Viura to mainstays of the global wine market like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The list of participants and links to their blogs is below.
During the course of our wine exploration into Navarra, we tasted:
- a white blend from Ochoa which we paired with shrimp tacos ,
- a Chardonnay from Otazu which we paired with roast chicken (see below),
- two garnacha (a 2014 Vega Del Castillo and a 2015 – Principe de Viana) which we paired with Tapas ,
- a 2008 Ochoa Reserva (a red blend with 55% Tempranillo 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot) which we paired with osso bucco
- and in this post, Castillo Monjardin Tempranillo Clasico and 2011 Inurrieta Cuatrocientos red blend which we paired with stuffed mushrooms and a rich lamb stew.
As April is Earth Month, and May 6 and 7 is the International Biodynamic Wine Conference in San Francisco, I wanted to include in our sacred journey through Navarra a recognition of the wines and wineries from Navarra that are committed to sustainable practices like being organic and biodynamic.
For example, family owned and operated Ochoa (which produces 600,000 bottles on 358 acres and was founded in 1845) states that “We are convinced that quality starts in the vineyard and we are now in process of conversion to Organic certification.”
Not only do wineries like Ochoa pay attention to the idea of “Earth Day Every Day” but the region includes many organic farms; local produce and local gastronomy are key to good living by the locals. In fact, Navarra is considered the “gourmet food basket” of Spain so sustainable farming is common-sense for them, because
“what goes in the soil ends up on your plate or in the glass,” says April Collum, owner Casa Abril Tours.
Pamplona in particular is well known as an ideal destination for foodies and so-called pintxo-lovers; a pinxto is a small snack served at bars with cocktails, and it is basically a Basque appetizer. The story goes that you would stab the bite and a bit of bread with your cocktail stick! Read more about the difference between a pinxto and tapas here.
Time to get to our wine and food pairings!
2015 – Chardonnay Otazu – 13.5% alcohol
Bodega Otazu is located close to Pamplona, and is quite large producing from 271 acres 400,000 bottles with 60,000 of these bottles Chardonnay. The vineyard is embraced by the Sierra del Perdón, the Sierra de Sarbil, and the Arga River, and has achieved the highest award: Pago Appellation. With its roots reaching back to 1840, it was the the first French style winery with a focus on Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, and Merlot. Atlantic ocean influences lead to aromatic wines along with excellent acidity. If you can, visit Bodega Otazu for these wines but also because of a large collection of contemporary art by artists from around the world.
In color a golden, bright straw.
A fun nose with vanilla, grass, light hints of white flowers.
On the palate, nice mouth feel front to back, lingering clean finish not off bitterness towards the back of the mouth, lemony citrus, Eureka lemon, not lemon curd. It’s fresh quality and pleasant mouthfeel come from, in part, stainless steel fermentation and three months aging on lees.
This wine is all about florals and fruit and not so much about minerality — it’s there but not the first thing you notice, but when you do, it is wet stone, like a river stone.
This wine has character, but the character is not overwhelming, there is a cleaness to this wine that went well with the roast chicken.
This is a bright clean chardonnay that is more on the citrus side rather than the apple side. It does like food, and it responds well to rich fatty foods. It goes well with Iberico, and it was good but not spectacular with the mushrooms. It was surprisingly pleasant with the chorizo, it likes the spicy fattiness of this meat, and does not fight it at all.
If you are into white wine, this is one that can go with many foods. If you like rich buttery California chardonnay, pretend it’s not chardonnay and give it a try.
Castillo Monjardin Tempranillo Clasico – 13.5% alcohol SRP $9
I liked this fun bright cheery label with the purple cap; it stands out on the shelf. The castle depicted on the label and cap is Castillo de Monjardin which is located in the northwest of Navarra in the foothills of the Pyrenées, not far from the French border. The castle of Monjardin was important to the Kingdom of Navarra during the XII century under the King Sancho Garces; today it’s on the Camino de Santiago which links France with Spain. Because of links with France, Castillo de Monjardin’s winemaking tradition is based on Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, distinct from the rest of Spain. Monjardín also makes fresh and fruit forward Garnacha and Pinot Noir. While the castle has ancient roots, the winery was founded in 1986.
Color: Not that dense, but not super clear like a pinot noir, a little more dense than grenache. It is on the orange side, tomato-esque.
Nose: Reminds me of a Sangiovese, full of herbs and spices, with a bit of cherry, pepper tree, peppercorns, rhubarb, there is also a bit of stone, maybe flint.
Palate: Tart cherry, tangy fruit like rhubarb, it also has a lovely earthiness, mulberry, slate, there are tannins, but they are nice and soft, they do not grip you like a tempranillo can at times.
This was a perfect pair with the stuffed mushrooms: it liked the saltiness and the earthy mushroom. It loved our 12 month aged Manchego: the wine brings out a very interesting nutty creaminess in the cheese. With this pair, the wine breaks down the cheese and brings out such a creaminess in this very dry style almost parmesan like cheese. It also went really well with the three month aged cheese. This is a very mellow nice pairing, easy to enjoy. The Iberico brings out a tanginess in the wine. This wine went well with all the Spanish cheeses and meats, and perfectly with the mushrooms. It brought out an earthy calcarious quality in the wine. This is not necessarily a cocktail wine (you can drink it on its own) however it really shines with tapas.
We really started getting into this wine the more it opened up. We had to put the bottle to the side so we would have some to enjoy with our lamb stew! Surprisingly, they suggest pairing this Tempranillo with chicken.
What was super interesting about the lamb stew is how different it was with both of our red wines. With the Tempranillo, the lamb stew was light, rich, fruity, and herbal. It was light zesty fresh and fun. When we had this dish with the Inurrieta Cuatrocientos, the flavors in the dish completely changed with the different wine.
For a wine that is under $10 to be this exciting and interesting tells us you should give this one a try. I know I’m going to pair it next time with chicken! And I’d love to bring this affordable gem to a party.
2011 – Incurriera Cuatrocientos – 14.5% alcohol SRP $18
60% merlot, 40% cabernet Sauvignon
NOTE: 2013 vintage: 37%Cabernet Sauvignon 20%Syrah 20%Graciano 15%Garnacha 8%Merlot
A family owned company established in 1999, Inurrieta in Spanish means “área of ants” or “ anthill” and the name is a tribute to the family Antoñana, current owners of the winery, and refers to the land where their family grew vines almost sixty years ago. Bodega Inurrieta is located 45 minutes south of Pamplona where they make 1450000 bottles total with 300,000 bottles of this wine grown at 1200′ elevation and which spent 12 months in French oak.
Color: This is an incredibly dense wine. you cannot see through it.
Nose: Herbal minty qualities, along with cherries and tobacco.
Palate: Dr Pepper, tart cherry, cherry cola, herbal, earthy, bell pepper, almost a cab franc-ish quality to this wine. It is rich and decadent, and I wanted it with a nice filet mignon and blue cheese meal with garlic mashed potatoes.
You could cellar this wine some more, but it is beautiful now.
This wine also loved our mushrooms, but we did not gush over it as much as when we had them with the Tempranillo. We felt that the Castello blue cheese would have been a perfect pair with this wine. This is a very nice wine, but it did not shine as well with the traditional meal as the Tempranillo did.
That being said, the wine really worked with the traditional lamb stew. This was the best pair with this wine for the night. The different herbs that were in the stew worked so nicely with this blend. It may have been the cumin that married the herbasiousness of the wine. then there was the umami of the tomatoes in the dish. the fresh tomatoes in the stew cut through the lamb. I felt that the Tempranillo would be the perfect pair with this meal, but Sue felt the better match was this wine with the lamb stew. We were both surprised and amazed at how well it went with this meal. When you have an older more complex wine, it usually makes a great match with any beef, lamb, oxtail, or other big game meats in a stew. With this wine, there is a rich deep, sensual quality to the meal.
The wines were a hit with our meal tonight. Once again we learned that if you do a little research and pair the wines of a region with the dishes of the region, than your evening and experience is going to be exceptional. What grows together, goes together.
At the end of the evening one gauge of what wine is best is always the wine bottle that has the least in it. Tonight the Chardonnay was gone (but I had opened it before to pair with the roast chicken), the Tempranillo was gone and the Inurrieta Cuatroientos was nearly gone — only because it was the last tasted and discussed!
Chorizo Stuffed Mushrooms
Sue adapted this recipe from the Flavors of Spain website; One adaptation was fewer onions because I don’t like them! It’s also very important to use Spanish chorizo sausage and NOT Mexican. We also use a little dried herbs of Provence along with fresh herbs from our garden. I would love to try stuffing small portabellas as an entree on bed of rice.
|White button or cremini mushrooms, large, wiped clean with a damp towel or brush||24 ea.|
|Olive oil, extra virgin, divided use||6 Tbsp., plus 1 tsp.|
|Butter, plus extra melted butter for basting as needed||6 Tbsp.|
|Onion, finely chopped||¾ cup|
|Garlic, minced||2 Tbsp.|
|Serrano ham, minced||½ cup|
|Chorizo sausage, dry-cured, chopped||½ cup|
|Parsley, thyme, marjoram, chopped, or a combination of these||¼ cup|
|Bread crumbs, toasted||½ cup|
|Black pepper, freshly ground or as needed||½ tsp.|
|Manchego or Parmesan cheese, grated, (optional)||2 Tbsp.|
Remove the stems from the mushrooms and chop the stems finely. Reserve the caps and 1 to 1 ½ cups of the chopped stems separately.
Heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and brown the mushroom caps, about 8 minutes, turning halfway through. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a small sauté pan over moderate heat and cook the onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and mushroom stems and cook until the stems have wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the ham and chorizo and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Stir in the herbs and breadcrumbs. Season to taste with 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Remember that the ham will give off more salt as it heats.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Oil or butter a 13- by 9- by 2-inch baking dish with about 1 teaspoon of oil. Spoon a scant tablespoon of the mixture into each of the mushroom caps. Place in the baking dish and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown, basting with a little melted butter, if desired. Sprinkle each cap with ¼ teaspoon of grated cheese, if using. Serve hot or warm.
Please join us as we explore this region of Spain; food ideas here. Many of us received a variety of samples from Wines of Navarra for which we are grateful.
What did the Wine Pairing Weekend Pilgrims do with Navarra Wine?
Jill Barth of L’Occasion: “Eat and Drink like Hemingway in Spain’s Navarra Region”
David Crowley of Cooking Chat: “Steak with Manchego Mushroom Sauce with Red Wine from Navarra”
Nicole Ruiz Hudson of Somm’s Table: “Cooking to the Wine: Senorio de Otazu and Broiled Skirt Steak with Romesco Sauce”
Camilla M. Mann of Culinary Adventures with Camilla: “Pacific Rock Crab Claws + 2016 Otazu Merlot Rosado “
Host Gwendolyn Alley The Wine Predator: “Along the Way with Wine and Food from Navarra Spain.”
If you’re up, please join us at 8am Pacific time for our twitter chat about the wine and food of Navarra! Or any time just find and follow the hashtag #WinePW.