This month I have the honor of leading the World Wine Travel Writers on a virtual trip to Navarra Spain. I dipped into a bit of research on the region and you can read my invite post: Navarra – Exploring the Spanish Wine of this region with #WorldWineTravel.
You will find links to my Colleagues’ posts at the bottom. If you want to know more about this region, or if you have insights to share, join us on Saturday, September 25th on Twitter at 8 am Pacific time! Just use and follow #WorldWineTravel to join the conversation.
The Kingdom of Navarra
Navarra is in the Northern part of Spain with its northern edge in the Pyrenees on the French Border. The Kingdom was originally called “The Kingdom of Pamplona” the city named by the Roman leader Pompeii in 75 BC. The Kingdom of Navarra pre-dates France and Spain and at one point spanned into Bordeaux.
Now much smaller, it sits between La Rioja, Pais Vasco, Aragón, and the French Department of Pyrenees Atlantique over the mountains.
The region, while not always thought of as Basque Country, is definitely within the Basque Region. Its famous capital city Pamplona is known for the Fiesta de San Fermin and the Running of the Bulls.
Navarra Wine Regions
The wine regions in Navarra are divided into 5 subdistricts
- Tierra Estella to the west bordering La Rioja
- Ribera Alta in the heart of Navarra with borders to Aragon & Rioja
- Valdizarbe in the central part of the province
- Baja Montaña to the northwest in the foothills of the Pyrenees bordering Aragón
- Ribera Baja in the south near the town of Tudela in the Ebro Valley
Overall the region leans red with 63% of their production. They do 25% rose only using the saignée method, 11% white wine, and less than 1% sweet aged late harvest wines.
The big hitters in the region are Tempranillo with 33% of the plantings followed by Garnacha at 24%, Cabernet Sauvignon at 15%, and Merlot at 15%. There is a smattering of other varieties all punching in at less than 2% of the plantings.
Until the 1980s Garnacha was king here. With the rise in popularity of Rioja, many vineyards changed to Tempranillo.
The region is also along the El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James), which goes right through their backyard and vineyard. This is the road for the pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James in Galicia, which attracts over 200,000 pilgrims each year, most on foot. (I had a friend who completed the Camino de Santiago last year and shared amazing photos)
José Manuel Echeverría and his wife Maria Saenz de Olazabal were both winemakers working on different projects. In 2000 they started Alzania, their own project.
They have 10 hectares planted to Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache and Chardonnay in Los Arcos and Arróniz. They have a vineyard that has 65 to 75-year-old Garnacha vines with another section of vineyard where the vines are 85 to 100 years old.
One of these vineyards has old vines that are bush trained and mixed in among olive trees. These ancient vines were planted to a field blend and the vineyard has a mix of over 12 different varieties.
Today they have a total of 15 hectares of vineyards and they produce 60,000 to 70,000 bottles annually.
They strive for low yields, good concentration, and balance. They farm sustainably and have never used pesticides.
They are imported by Bon Vivant Imports who have a page with a great video interview with José Manuel from 2020.
In the interview, they discuss the Camino de Santiago and José Manuel says there were fewer visitors in 2020 due to the pandemic. While this means fewer visitors to the area, one bright side was more grapes at harvest. With the Camino going right past his vineyard, many walking the road would snack on the grapes as they went by!
Saenz-Olazabal “Gardacho” Garnacha 2018 Navarra
This wine takes its name from the local lizards that you find in the vineyard “gardacho” being the word in Navarra for lizard. It also refers to a folk story told children about a mythical dragon.
The vines for this wine average 75 years old that are planted at 500-550 meters above sea level. Soils here are clay-limestone.
100% Garnacha, it is fermented 50/50 in concrete and stainless steel with indigenous yeast. Then it goes into 5000-liter neutral French oak casks to age for 8 months. Unfined and unfiltered, this wine is bright and delicious. It can be found for around $15 which is a steal for this wine.
The wine was bright and cheerful with bold tannins, but the fruit is juicy with notes of baking spice. The wine has lift. It is a lively, joyful wine and is decidedly Spanish. When I stuck my nose in the glass I got those strawberry notes that I associate with Grenache as well as undertones of currant. Red fruit was prominent with deeper background notes of darker fruits like blackberries, with hints of baking spice.
In my mouth, the strawberries were cooked with notes of crushed raspberry, red plum, and bright crisp red fruit. This is a very clean wine and on my palate, it feels like a Beaujolais in weight.
What to pair with this Garnacha?
We wanted something delicious, not too heavy and relatively easy to make, that spoke to the region. I know, that’s a lot of qualifications.
I went through lists of traditional dishes that are recommended in Pamplona and found Pochas estofadas. This dish of white beans, tomatoes, olive oil, and paprika seemed just right. I will admit, I was swamped and I put Michael to work searching for a recipe. He found one from Canal Cocina by Jesus Sanchez that he said looked pretty, so we riffed on that. Michael was kind enough to translate the recipe for me.
This recipe called for frozen beans, wild rice, fresh tomato, a poach onion, chicken stock, carrot, and zucchini. I simplified using canned beans and tomatoes and precooked rice. This went together in about 20 minutes. If you are using uncooked rice, just add 20 minutes for it to cook and stew in all those delicious flavors.
I had forgotten to take the wine out of the fridge after we did our bottle shoot, so it was a little cooler than we typically drink our reds. This worked perfectly for me. (Later I found that it is suggested to drink this wine chilled).
This is a red that does not need meat. Now if I had added some sausage to the dish, would it still have paired well? Yes, but it does not need it. This was a very satisfying pairing.
The #WorldWineTravel group of writers are all diving into Navarra! Check out all the different wines that they explored and their insights into the region.
- Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm shares Sazon Goya Grilled Chicken Thighs and an Old Vines Garnacha
- Terri of Our Good Life shares Navarra’s Local Red Wine Drink: The Kalimotxo #worldwinetravel
- Martin of Enofylz Wine Blog shares 2016 Artazu Pasos de San Martín” Navarra + One Pan Spanish Chorizo & Shrimp
- Nicole of Somm’s Table shares Azul y Garanza Naturaleza Salvaje Navarra Tinto with Basque Tomato Soup and Grilled Chicken
- Cam of Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares Virtual Navarra: Spicy Lamb Meatballs + Vina Zorzal Graciano 2018
- Jeff from Food Wine Click shares Surprisingly Fresh in Navarra with Itxas Harri
- Gwendolyn Alley from Wine Predator shares Chorizo Stuffed Mushrooms with Navarra’s “Galimatias” Cuts Through The Rigmarole
- Susannah from Avvinare shares Discover Navarra Rosados that Brighten your Day
This quick and easy version of Pochas Estofadas is
- 1 - 15 oz can of Cannelli Beans
- 1 - 15 oz can of Great Northern White Beans
- 1 clove of garlic minced
- ½ white onion finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp fresh ground pepper
- ½ tsp ground paprika
- 1 (+) cup of chicken stock
- 1 8.8 oz pack of Long Grain and wild rice (ready rice, the kind you just microwave)
- 1 – 14.5 oz can of organic chopped tomatoes
- 1 carrot peeled and diced
- 1 small zucchini diced
- 2 tbs olive oil
- Rinse the beans and place them in a pot over medium heat, with the garlic and onion.
- Season with salt and pepper
- Add 1 cup of broth, and the paprika and bring to a boil.
- Add the rice and chopped tomatoes. Cover and let cook, while you dice and cook the carrot and zucchini.
- Saute the carrot and zucchini in a little olive oil, until the carrots are firm but not crunchy.
- Plate the stew, thinning with extra broth if needed.
- Top with the carrots and zucchini.
If you are using uncooked rice, you would add the rice and let it cook in the mixture for 25 minutes covered. The pre-cooked rice is my way of cutting cooking time, which for me was essential.
Keep in mind that the longer cooking time helps with flavor development.
You can always make this a vegan dish by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.
Amount Per Serving Calories 237Total Fat 6gSaturated Fat 1gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 4gCholesterol 1mgSodium 505mgCarbohydrates 38gFiber 8gSugar 8gProtein 12g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.