The Navarra Denominación de Origen (DO) is often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbour Rioja; after all, the latter does extend into the Autonomous Community of Navarre, leaving the southern part for the Navarra DO. Rosé – well, Rosado more properly – was the style which Navarra became most well known for, but increasingly its reds are gaining in prominence and recognition.
Bodegas Ochoa is currently in the hands of the fifth (Javier Ochoa) and sixth generations (his daughters Adriana and Beatriz), with each generation improving both the quality and diversity of the range. When I tried the Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva four years ago I was very impressed. When I recently got the opportunity to try the current release of the Reserva I didn’t have to be asked twice!
Disclosure: sample was kindly provided, opinions remain my own
Ochoa Navarra Tinto Reserva 2010 (13.5%, RRP €20 at Hole in the Wall, Cabra; O’Donovan’s, Cork; Morton’s Ranelagh)
The blend here is very typical of Navarra: Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Maturation is between 15 to 18 months in French and American barriques (225 litre oak barrels) then a further five or so years in bottle before release.
The result is a wine which is simply bursting with ripe fruit! Even though this wine is eight years old, tasting it is like munching on fresh blackcurrants and blueberries, with a touch of vanilla. It’s not a jammy fruit bomb, though – it’s very smooth and elegant but complex at the same time.
If you’ve never had Navarra before, this sets the bar very high indeed!
For the first of my posts on Valentine’s Wines I thought I would try something a little bit different from the norm. My wife and I invited her elder brother Andrew and his girlfriend Paula round for dinner to and to try some different wines in advance of Valentine’s Day.
It’s good to hear the opinions of other people – wine tasting can be very social and lots of fun. I heartily recommend you try forming your own tasting panel now and again, with friends from absolute novices to MWs.
Before we get into the wines, here is the delicious meal they accompanied:
Cantaloupe Melon drenched in Pineau des Charentes
Slow Roasted Loin of Pork with a Bramley apple glaze, server with roasted potatoes, julienne carrots and petits pois, roasted root vegetables, apple and citrus jus
Apple Strudel with Cornish Vanilla Ice cream and / or Homemade Vanilla Custard
Selection of: Brie de Meaus, Abbaye du Mont des Cats, Diliskus semi-soft Herbed.
Disclosure: the wines tasted below were kindly provided by O’Briens, but opinions are entirely our own.
Rizzardi Prosecco DOC Spumante Extra Dry NV (€20.99, currently €17.99)
Valentine’s connection: who doesn’t like popping the cork on some fizz?
The label “Extra Dry” on Prosecco is usually a misnomer – the wine is often on the sweet side. A little sweetness can make Prosecco very easy to drink and is one of the factors behind its current boom in sales. However, Rizzardi’s style is actually dry on the palate. Being a Spumante it had a proper cork and was fully sparkling.
On tasting the main flavours we noted were pip fruit such as Granny Smith’s apple and pear, citrus (even Lemon Sherbet) and a sour sweetness (if that makes any sense) – a bit like the sensation from Sour Squirms sweets.
A little sweetness did come through on the finish once it had warmed up a little in the glass (it was served straight from a domestic fridge).
Andrew 5 [not a fan of fizz]
Paula 8 [can I have another glass please?]
Jess 4 [found it too dry]
Frankie 7 [preferred it to most other Proseccos]
This wine clearly divided opinion on the panel, but that’s no bad thing. Hopefully the comments give you the information to decide whether this Prosecco is for you, or perhaps try a sweeter one.
Les Auzines Fleurs Blanches Vin de France 2013 (€14.49, currently €12.99, O’Briens)
Valentine’s connection: say it with (white) flowers
Although labelled as a Vin de France, which could come from almost anywhere in France, this was made in the Corbières region of the Languedoc, quite close to the Mediterranean coast. The name property name “Les Auzines” comes from the Occitan meaning “little leaves from the oak tree”, owned by Laurent Miquel and his Irish wife Neasa Corish.
The blend is based on Grenache Gris, with perhaps a dash of Grenache Blanc. It is classed as an oaked white as 85% was fermented and aged in second and third-use oak barrels, but although it has gained texture and complexity it doesn’t taste typically “oaky”.
Smooth and rich but tangy, it shows flavours of Macadamia nuts, lime, gravel and mineral, fennel, lavender and other herbs – it’s really interesting. Alcohol is surprisingly modest at 11.5% – it doesn’t feel lacking in any way.
Andrew 7 [Nuts and gravel]
Paula 8 [Soft and easy-drinking]
Jess 7 [A white wine for red wine drinkers]
Frankie 8 [what a find!]
Fleurs Blanches was an amazing match for the main course – perhaps helped by the dash of Fleurs Blanches which went in the jus. O’Briens’ notes reckon that it “bears a closer resemblance to fine Burgundy than to Corbiéres” – I would clarify that by saying it could double for maturefine Burgundy – it’s that good!
Henri Bourgeois La Porte Caillou Sancerre 2013 (€22.99, currently €19.99, O’Briens)
Valentine’s connection: woo your Valentine with a classy, classic white wine.
Sancerre was the first wine region famous for varietal Sauvignon Blanc, but as is the way with Appellation-based fame, it is open to use and abuse. If you’ve ever bought a Sancerre in a French supermarket then you will know that quality can be very variable…
So what to do? Find a good producer, of course – or a greatproducer, such as Henri Bourgeois.
Minerality is a buzzword in wine at the moment, but the chalk soils of HB’s vineyards impart a magnificent flint character to his wines. The very name “Porte de Caillou” means Pebble Gate, so that should give you an idea!
As well as the minerality (liked by one taster to sucking on gravel!), there’s lots and lots of fruit: very green, but ripe, fruit such as gooseberry and grapefruit, plus a little restrained tropical fruit. There’s lots of acidity but it’s smooth rather than spiky, with more body and texture than you might expect from a Sauvignon.
Andrew 8 [An integrated continuum from the nose though to the palate]
Paula 7 [Lovely and fresh]
Jess 6 [Prefer fruity Sauvignons]
Frankie 8 [Classic Sancerre!]
Food friendly Sauvignon that the Kiwis are now trying to emulate. This shows how Sancerre should be done, and why it became a classic in the first place.
Ars Nova Navarra Gran Reserva 2007 (€17.49, O’Briens)
Valentine’s connection: an appeal to the finer things in life – and seductive in the glass.
Named after the Mediaeval Latin for “New Art” (as in New Technique), this is a blend of 40% Tempranillo (well known in Rioja and elsewhere in Spain), 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot (both from Bordeaux). Its home region of Navarra had non-native (mainly French) varieties planted from the 1980s onwards, so now winemakers have a wide choice of ingredients.
As a Gran Reserva it has spent eighteen months maturing before being bottled – the producer mentions nine months in French oak so I’m guessing a further nine in a larger format of vessel. Alcohol is punchy but not overblown at 14.0%.
It shows smoke rather than vanilla characters from the oak, followed by red fruit (strawberry) moving into black fruit (blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry) and a savoury finish. There’s perhaps an edge of leather and liquorice but they don’t dominate. Overall the impression is of fruit sweetness, plenty of tannin, well balanced.
Andrew 8 [My kind of wine, fruit and tannin together]
Paula 9 [My favourite wine of the night]
Jess 9 [Easy going, smooth, could drink this every day]
Perfectly poised between (fruit) sweet and (tannin) savoury, this was a big hit with everyone. It was a good match for the cheese but would also be great with beef, lamb or venison. Without the renown of Rioja, the winemakers of Navarra have really upped their game. The only downside to this wine was that a Lussac St-Emilion tasted afterwards was dry and thin in comparison!
Following on from my review of the sparkling and white wines in part one, here are the red and sweet wines which impressed me at the O’Briens Wines Autumn Press Tasting:
Señorio de Aldaz Tinto DO Navarra 2012 (€10.99)
Navarra (or Navarre in English) is a wine region in the north of Spain close to the more famous Rioja. It used to be well-known for its rosados but now produces plenty of quality reds and whites, from both indigenous and international grape varieties. In fact, the old Garnacha vineyards previously used for simple rosés are now being put to a more noble use in reds such as this one. The other grapes in the blend are the local Tempranillo and the international Merlot.
It’s unmistakably Spanish, with bold red and black fruit cossetted in a basket of vanilla. This is smooth and very easy to drink on it’s own, but would stand up to beef or lamb with aplomb. Great value for money.
Luzon Crianza DO Jumilla 2011 (€15.99)
The Spanish speakers among you may have spotted from the label that this was matured in oak for 12 months, and thereby qualifies for the Crianzadesignation. The oak used was mainly French (80%) with the balance American.
Jumilla is a region on the rise, as modern viticultural and vinification techniques are applied to some old bush vine vineyards. Monastrell (the Rhône’s Mourvèdre) dominates the blend here with beefiness and spice, augmented by Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and a little Merlot. The fruit is black rather than red – and it almost explodes out of the bottle.
Longview The Piece Shiraz 2009 (€42.00)
Longview are based in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia, just into the hills above….err…Adelaide! Known as a cool(er) climate region, it can produce sublime Chardonnays and is now getting a serious reputation for Shiraz: Shaw + Smith excel at both. “The Piece” is their top wine with all grapes handpicked, sorted and fermented in four separate one tonne open fermenters. It was aged for 24 months in new and old 300 litre French oak hogsheads.
At five years of age the wine has now settled down and is beginning to unfurl its petals. It has sweet black fruit with soft integrated oak. Medium acidity and silky tannins provide the structure for balance and additional ageing if you can resist drinking it now.
Château La Tour Blanche AOC Sauternes 2007 (€75.00, €67.00 in Nov/Dec)
How much? you might ask. Yes, it’s an expensive bottle, but it’s a high end wine, and if you feel like splashing out for Christmas this would be perfect. 2007 was a good year for Bordeaux’s southerly Sauternes subregion so it should last for at least a decade from now.
On opening the wine has a divine, honey and apricot nose that you just want to inhale all day. This follows through onto the palate, and while it’s definitely a dessert wine, there’s enough acidity to provide balance and stop it being cloying.
If you are a fan of foie gras then a glass of this would be a sublime match.
Gérard Bertrand AOC Rivesaltes 1989 (€27.99)
For me this was the standout wine of the tasting. For those not familiar with the term, a Vin Doux Naturel is a fortified sweet wine where grape spirit is added early in the fermentation process to kill off the yeast, stopping fermentation and leaving some of the natural sugars from the grapes. The Muscat grape is a staple for this job, especially around the Mediterranean, but Grenache offers an alternative style in several appellations.
The Rivesaltes appellation takes its name from the town of the same name in the Roussillon area, which means “High Banks” in Catalan.
The Muscat versions are often sweet, simple and grapey, nice but nothing to write home about. This 25 year old Rivesaltes demands you buy a big book of stamps!
Time has caused the colour to fade from the wine – Grenache doesn’t tend to hold on to its colour that well anyway – but in return there are layers upon layers of complexity. You could lose yourself for an hour just smelling the aromas, before diving into the heavenly Christmas pudding palate. Spice up your wine selection here!
Bethany Old Quarry Tawny (€23.99)
The obvious word missing from the name of this wine is “Port”, and that’s because it’s from Australia not Porto. Most people are very familiar with Australian table wine but aren’t aware that fortified wines were the majority of the industry’s output until the 1970s. Port and Sherry imitations dominated the domestic market but were never able to compete with the real deal overseas. Nowadays the proportion of production devoted to fortifieds is small with virtually nil exported.
Happily this is one of the bottles in that small rounding error, made from the traditional Barossa fortifieds grapes of Grenache and Shiraz. Barrel ageing has given it some wonderfully intense raisin and nutty “rancio” characters.