It was ‘back in the day’, as they say, in 1998 that I first visited Navarra in Spain. At the time I was working as sommelier at Oxo Tower Restaurant on London’s South Bank and I had already visited Spain a couple of times, but was in the process of getting into the wines from Navarra. I listed the wines from leading bodegas of the region such as Chivite, Guelbenzu and Ochoa and was soon acquiring a taste and enthusiasm for their distinctive flavour and character. This historic region, famed for agricultural produce, mainly rosado wines and the legendary ‘running of the bulls’ in Pamplona, was always in the shadow of its neighbour – Rioja. What immediately struck me though on becoming familiar with these wines, was that they tasted a little bit different, almost “Bordeaux-like” with good definition, varietal character and expression. I soon became fond of them and going on that trip was an amazing experience.
Chivite had been around for a long time and had built up a vinous pedigree over many years, but there were two exciting “new kids on the Navarra wine block” – the maverick producers at Bodegas Ochoa (Xavier Ochoa) and Bodegas Guelbenzu (Miguel Guelbenzu). They were starting to get a seriously good reputation too. I listed their wines and they have become firm personal favourites over the years. In 1996, the forward-thinking Xavier Ochoa decided to place the grape variety on the bottle’s label. This ground-breaking decision (as he was the first to do it) was a very smart move. The quality of the family’s wine was of top quality, yet the packaging and the emphasis on the varietal ensured that their wines stood out from the crowd (Spanish wines are in a very competitive market) and made them appear more ‘modern’ and contemporary. After all, a large portion of wine marketing and branding is all about perceptions. For me, it ensured that the consumer not only realized that they were enjoying a wine from the Navarra region, but also they could hopefully begin to understand was tempranillo, and so on, was.
So, a few years later (2012) I attended a really interesting tasting of Wines of Navarra organised by Angeline Bayly. I spent time tasting the latest vintages offered by the bodegas and re-acquainting myself with ‘old favourites’ and tasting new ones for the first time. I had a quick chat with Beatriz Ochoa (one of Xavier’s daughters), who takes care of sales and marketing at the estate. Adriana, Beatriz’s sister, is the winemaker.
I hope you enjoy my roving sommelier video!
2009 Ochoa Tempranillo Crianza – Tasting note: 12 months in oak, 12 months in bottle, very nicely balanced, powerful, yet elegant plummy fruits with a lick of spicy oak. 13.5% alc. RRP £9.99 which makes it great value for money. Delicious with shoulder of lamb.
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The epicurean odyssey continues…