Thursday, January 08, 2009

Nafarroa's Wines

Once again an article that lacks historic accuracy, this time from The News Tribune, here you have it:

Spain’s Navarre region produces fine wines


The Navarre region of Spain was an ancient and powerful kingdom and has been at the crossroads of history for more than 1,000 years. Navarre is in the foothills of the stunning Pyrenees Mountains, which form a natural border between France and Spain.

Navarre shares the culture and history of both countries, while still retaining its character as part of the Basque region as well.

Actually Randy, Navarre is not "part of the Basque region", Navarre IS the Basque Country. It does share the culture and history of both Spain and France, not because the Basques wanted but because they were imposed to them by their meddling, often violent and expansionist neighbors.

When most of Spain was conquered by the Moors in medieval times, Navarre became the frontier between Islam and Christianity. Charlemagne fought here. During the Middle Ages, Navarre and its capital, Pamplona, became an important stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela (also known in English as The Way of Saint James).

Randy, Spain did not exist when the Moors arrived on the Iberian Peninsula. At the time there was dozens of small kingdoms and not one of them was called Spain. Two more facts: Charlemagne did fight in Navarre, and was soundly defeated by the Navarrese Army at the Orreaga mountain pass in what is today known as The Battle of Roncesveaux, actually, the Basques defeated the Franks at that very same spot a total of three times, this reasserting their identity and sovereignty as an independent kingdom. Second, a portion of Navarre converted to Islam and that is how the Muslim Basque emirate of Banu Qasi came to be. This emirate fought along the Christian portion of Navarre during many wars against the attempts by Castile to conquer them.

This flow of pilgrims from Europe gave Navarre exposure to many different cultures and traditions, including contact with winemakers from the major wine regions of France.

Navarre lies directly between the Bordeaux and Rioja wine regions, and it draws its expertise, inspiration and encouragement from the steady traffic of ideas between these areas. Winemaking in Navarre traces its roots back to the Romans, who recognized that its combination of soil and climate was ideal for grape growing.

Errioxa (known in Spanish as Rioja) is part of Navarre. So, the Basques learned how to make wine directly from the Romans, not from the non existent Riojans. And guess what, Bordeaux is in Gascony, a neighboring nation within France with heavy Basque influence, so you may want to go over that theory about how the Basques got to be so good at wine making.

But I'll let you continue with your review:

Navarre is famous for growing the classic grape of Northern Spain, tempranillo, as well as garnacha (grenache), which has its roots in Southern France.

The vines here are old and gnarled, producing small amounts of very concentrated, intensely flavored grapes. Some of the vineyards are more than 100 years old. Many families have grown grapes in Navarre for more than four generations, and they take great pride in the personal attention they give each vine.

Tempranillo is the traditional red grape of Spain. It is grown throughout the northern part of the country, from Rioja and Navarre to Ribera del Duero and Castilla La Mancha. The grape produces wines which display a complex bouquet of cherries, dried leather and earthiness. In Portugal, this same grape, called tinto roriz, plays a key role in the blending of great vintage port wines.

Garnacha, better known in the United States as grenache, is the most widely planted red grape in the world. It is famous in the Rhne, where it is a key to the success of Chteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Ctes du Rhne wines. It is equally successful in Spain, where it is an important part of the blend in classic Rioja wines.

It does well in very dry regions, where the fruit becomes quite concentrated. Wines made from grenache tend to be very lush and fruity, with aromatic notes of blackberries and currants. The wines are quite fleshy and smooth. They make an ideal blend with the more structured character of tempranillo.

If you need a little more excitement after visiting the vineyards, head for the Pamplona, famous for its Festival of San Fermín and the running of the bulls. There is more here than the adventures depicted by Ernest Hemingway. San Fermín is the social expression of a local culture. The city comes alive, with hundreds of thousands of people celebrating a history and shared experience that goes back more than a thousand years.

2001 Bodegas Julian Chivite, Coleccion 125 Reserva, Navarre, Spain, $40: Aromas of black fruits, cigar leaf and wormwood radiate from this deeply-hued wine. It is full and elegant in the mouth, with tannins that firm up of the back end. Flavors mirror the nose. This will only get better with aging; 88+/88+.

2007 Bodegas Ochoa, Rosado Garnacha, Navarre, Spain, $8.50: Sporting a light cranberry color, this crisp, balanced wine delivers aromas and flavors of crisp berry fruit. Serve slightly chilled. Killer value; 86/90.

2004 Bodegas San Martin, Senorio de Unx Crianza, Navarre, Spain, $13: The nose is a complex mix of berries, warm spices, vanilla and leather. Crisp, well balanced and fruity, the palate reveals berry fruit with a hint of juniper berries. Good value; 85/88.

2004 Compania Vitivinicola Tandem, Ars Nova, Navarre, Spain, $20: Blackberries, blueberries, anise and thyme unfold on the nose, while black fruits prevail on the palate. Crisp, with moderate tannins, this wine will pair well with a hearty beef stew; 86/87.

Now, thanks to this wine tour you know more about Navarre, the ancient Basque kingdom, the reason why historians flat out lie when they say that the Basques never enjoyed of a free, independent and sovereign political entity to call their own.

So uncork your best bottle of Errioxa wine, pour some of that vibrant red liquid in your glass, raise your hand and say: Osasuna!

Which means "chears" in Euskara, the Basque language.

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