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 Premio Nacional de Gastronomía - - James Beard Foundation Nomination (Best Wine Writing)
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7/26/2004

Tasting & Touring in Navarra

By Gerry Dawes

Wineries

Bodegas Guelbenzu
San Juan 14
31420 Cascante
Phone: (948) 85.00.55; fax: (948) 95.00.97

Guelbenzu is an old, family bodega founded in the mid-1800s, which recently revived itself as a modern Euro-técnica operation. One of the best of the new-wave wineries, Guelbenzu, like several other bodegas, still has a long way to go in taming oak and making the wines truly delicious and food-friendly.

Bodegas Julián Chivite
Calle Ribera
31592 Cintruénigo
Phone: (948) 81.10.00; fax: (948) 81.14.07

The 1994 vintage – combined with the coming of age of the Chivite family's (Fernando, Julián and Mercedes) spectacular 150-hectare Arínzano Estate Vineyard (planted to tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay near the historic town of Estella) and the maturation of Fernando Chivite's winemaking skills – will firmly place Chivite among the ranks of Spain's greatest wineries.

The 1994 Colección 125 is an astounding bottle of wine and can stand alongside the best wines I have ever tasted. Chivite makes the best-selling Gran Feudo rosado, one of the greatest rosés in Spain (which is to say one of the world's best), but I contend it was even better years ago, before cold fermentation, when it had a touch of that wonderful rust/onion-skin color that the greatest garnacha rosados then possessed.

1994 Colección 125 Gran Reserva (80% tempranillo/20% merlot; from the Arínzano Estate; aged in American and French oak with at least one year in new French oak): Deep garnet hue. Tight nose with whiffs of pretty oak. Absolutely superb, beautifully balanced wine with delicious, ripe, black raspberry, black cherry and black currant flavors followed by a long finish imbued with complex spices and lovely, earthy terroir notes. Reminiscent of a great vintage of Château Margaux. This will be the wine that makes Fernando Chivite and his Arínzano Vineyard's reputation. Score: 97+

Bodegas Magaña
San Miguel 9
31523 Barillas
Phone: (948) 85.00.34; fax: (948) 85.15.36

At one point, Magaña was making the best red wines in Navarra, most notably a stunning Merlot reserva. Lately, the wines have been somewhat spotty and there are persistent rumors of problems at the winery. Juan Magaña is Spain's maestro of Merlot, but he has had trouble keeping an importer, and the winery is in a state of flux. I am hopeful that Magaña will recoup his early style, which showed the promise of producing some of the best red wines in Spain.

Señorío de Sarriá
Finca Señorío de Sarriá
Puente La Reina
Phone: (948) 19.85.40; fax: (948) 17.21.64

This spectacular estate is in a jewel-like setting a few kilometers outside the lovely medieval Camino de Santiago town of Puente la Reina, whose arched Romanesque bridge is not to be missed–it is one of the marvels of northern Spain. Señorío de Sarriá is under new management, has a new winemaking and producing the best wines in its history including some very good modern red wines and the stunning rosado, Señorío de Sarriá Viñedo #5 (Vineyard plot #5), made from 100% Garnacha.

Bodegas Ochoa
Carretera Zaragoza 21, 31390 Olite
Phone: (948) 74.00.06; fax: (948) 74.00.48

Javier Ochoa was in charge of Navarra's experimental enological station at Olite, an undertaking that helped mark the epoch in modern-day Navarra winemaking. He was constantly experimenting with foreign varieties and became the leader in Navarra for innovation. Ochoa makes a number of varietals – Cabernet, Merlot, Tempranillo, Garnacha – and is one of the primary forces behind the 100 percent varietal wine movement in Navarra.

Bodegas Nekeas
Las Huertas, 31154 Añorbe
Phone: (948) 35.02.96; fax: (948) 35.03.00

Here winemaker Concha Vecino deals with foreign varieties (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay), tempranillo and new oak with mixed results. The 1993 vintage was the first harvest at Nekeas. Producers of the popular Vega Sindoa line. They also produce El Chaparral, a very good Garnacha made from old vines grapes.

Bodegas Las Campanas
Vinícola Navarra, SA
Carretera de Zaragoza km 14, 31397 Campanas
Phone: (948) 36.01.-51; fax: (948) 36.02.75

Once one of the top wineries in Navarra for its solid, reliable wines – especially its young clarete-type tinto, its superb Las Campanas rosado and, now, the exceptional, top-of-the-line Castillo de Javier rosado – this century-old winery is now owned by the giant Bodegas y Bebidas (Campo Viejo). In my opinion, it could do much, much better with its red wines.
Palacio de Muruzabal
A & B Marino (Álvaro Marino)
Calle Mayor, 31152 Muruzabal
Phone: (948) 34.42.79; fax: (948) 34.42.79

One of the most promising Navarrese producers, Muruzabal has 17 hectares of cab and four hectares of merlot. They also make a very good Chardonnay from a six-hectare plot.

Bodegas Piedemonte
Sociedad Cooperativa
Rua Romana, 31390 Olite
Phone: (948) 71.24.06; fax: (948) 74.00.90

Organistrum, Eventum, Durius, Augustus and Olígitum. The Romans, who occupied Spain for centuries, including Olite, are back. In Spanish, pie de monte means at the foot of the mountain, so forgive the coincidental confusion with the Italian Piedmont. This sociedad (limited association) owns 450 hectares of vines, including 160 of cabernet sauvignon, 150 of tempranillo, 60 of garnacha, 40 of merlot, 20 mazuelo (carignane) and 20 of viura. The oak-aged wines see about a five-to-one ratio of American to French oak. The wines, bearing very modern labels, offer good value.

Lodging in Navarra

Most Pamplona hotels are either modern in nature or have been recently renovated. They are sometimes more functional than charming, but they are comfortable nonetheless. During July's Fiestas de San Fermín, unless one has reserved well ahead, rooms are very hard to come by and extremely expensive.

Hotels in the provinces tend to be modestly priced, are sometimes homey and usually are reasonably comfortable.

There is also the option of staying in casas rurales, rustic, picturesque family village homes, which have been renovated to accommodate tourists. Most are quite comfortable and usually downright cheap.

In the area, there are two good paradores de turismo – Spain's excellent system of government-run hotels, which often are in converted palaces, castles and other historic buildings. There are paradores at Olite (in a wing of the castle-palace) and at Sos del Rey Católico, the unspoiled medieval town just across the Navarrese border where King Ferdinand was born (a few kilometers into neighboring Aragón). Parador reservations can be made in the United States by contacting Marketing Ahead, 433 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016; phone: (800) 223-1356; fax: (212) 686-0271.

Remember that rates can more than double during the Fiestas de San Fermín.

Hotel Baztan
Carretera Pamplona-Francia km 56, Gartzain-Elizondo
Phone: 58.00.50; fax: 45.23.23

Situated just outside one of the liveliest and largest villages in the Navarrese Pyrenees, Baztan is a comfortable hotel with a swimming pool. (Moderate.)

Hostal Burguete
Calle Unica 51, 31640 Burguete (Navarra)
Phone: 76.00.05

Typical, rustic inn where Jake Barnes and Bill Gorton stayed for their trout fishing expedition in The Sun Also Rises. (Inexpensive.)

Parador Fernándo de Aragón
50680 Sos del Rey Católico, Zaragoza
Phone: 88.80.11; fax: 88.81.00

Situated in a spectacular medieval village with stunning views, the restaurant serves good regional food, including seldom encountered dishes drawn from ancient recipes. (Moderate.)

Hotel Irache
Carretera de Logroño km 43, 31200 Ayegui-Estella
Phone: 55.11.50; fax: 55.47.54

A functional, modern hotel located a few kilometers from Estella. (Moderate.)

Hotel Maisonnave
Calle Nueva 20, 31001 Pamplona
Phone: 22.26.00; fax: 22.01.66; telex: 37994

A modern, comfortable, conveniently located hotel. The choice of many well-heeled foreigners who flock to San Fermín each year. (Moderate to expensive.)

Meson del Peregrino
Carretera Pamplona-Logroño km 23,
31100 Puente la Reina
Phone: 34.00.75; fax: 34.11.90

A charming, rustically decorated hotel with an excellent restaurant. Situated where the most heavily traveled pilgrim's routes to Santiago de Compostela converge. (Moderate to expensive.)

Parador Principe de Viana
Plaza Teobaldos 2, 31390 Olite
Phone: 74.00.00; fax: 74.02.01

Located in a wing of the castle-palace in an enchanting walled village in wine country, this parador is comfortably furnished with period antiques and tapestries; its restaurant offers authentic regional dishes. (Moderate to expensive.)

Iruña Palace Tres Reyes
Jardines de la Taconera, 31001 Pamplona
Phone: 22.66.00; fax: 22.29.30

Pamplona's luxury hotel offers all the amenities. (Expensive.)

Hotel Yoldi
Avenida San Ignacio 11, 31002 Pamplona
Phone: 22.48.00; fax: 21.20.45

A classic, recently renovated hotel that is a favorite among bullfighters, many of whom choose to stay there while competing. (Moderate to expensive.)

Casas Rurales:

Many Navarra villages have two or three casas rurales, some, like Ochagavia in the Pyrenees, have up to ten. A booklet titled Guía de Alojamientos de Navarra – Turismo Rural contains color photos of each house, proprietor's names, telephone numbers, number of rooms and prices. To obtain this booklet or to reserve rooms in the casas rurales in the villages of Navarra, write to the Tourist Office of Navarra, calle Duque de Ahumada 3, 31002 Pamplona (Navarra), or call 22.07.41.

Bed and breakfast at many of these charming houses is quite inexpensive.

The Pilgrim's Reward

An important stop on the Camino de Santiago is the Monasterio de Irache, 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) south of Estella just off route N111 at Ayegui. Irache, believed to have its roots in the Visigothic period, was one of the earliest Benedictine monasteries and one of the first pilgrim hospitals on the Spanish portion of the road to Santiago. The massive building incorporates a blend of architectural styles added over the centuries, including a 12th-Century Romanesque apse, a Renaissance cloister and a Herreran-style tower patterned after El Escorial.

Facing the monastery is Museo del Vino (a wine museum), part of the Castillo de Irache winery, whose dry rosado is one of the best in Navarra. Behind the winery, along the gravel pilgrim's road that leads up to the monastery, is one of the most unusual oddities in the world of wine, the Fuente del Vino, a spigot (there is also one for water) from which pilgrim's can draw a glass of wine gratis, courtesy of Bodegas Irache. The red wine is pretty coarse, suggesting press wine, but it has sustained many a wine-thirsty pilgrim and, hell, it's free.

Points of Interest

Pamplona: July 6-14, Fiestas de San Fermín; running of the bulls and bullfights • Excellent restaurants • The Old Quarter

El Camino de Santiago: Sangüesa • Roncesvalles and environs • Puente la Reina's Romanesque bridge • Medieval town of Estella

Southern Navarra: Medieval castle town of Olite • Old Moorish and Jewish quarters of Tudela-Roman winery at Funes • Walled castle village of Artajona

For more information, contact the National Tourist Office of Spain, 666 Fifth Avenue, 35th Floor, New York, NY 10022. Phone: (212) 265-8822

Contributing Editor Gerry Dawes, who has been traveling to Spain regularly for more than 30 years, is a New York-based wine, food and travel photojournalist whose articles and photographs have been published in The New York Times, International Wine Cellar, Food Arts and Martha Stewart Living.
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