Dawn broke for our third day (9/21/11) in the Kingdom of Navarra (Twitter, Facebook) with brilliant signs pointing to even more glorious weather to accompany our travels around this Spanish wine kingdom. From the window of my hotel room at the historic Palacio Guandelain in Pamplona, I could see and hear the rumblings of the (rare) early rising Navarrans in the plaza that stretched out from the hotel front. I couldn’t wait to get started on our travels back to the Ribera Alta sub-region of the Navarra DO appellation. I felt rather rested, since I had given my body the morning off from my usual run, following my great success at getting thoroughly lost, the prior morning.
We cruised down the carretera nacional to our first stop led by our trusty guide, Michael “Miguel” Mantilla (ARGOS Wine Consulting/Kraynick & Associates, Inc.). The village of San Martín de Unx is an ancient village, seemingly made primarily of the light brown and slightly reddish-tinged local stone, with a population of only 400+ inhabitants. We pulled up at the local cooperative winery for our morning tasting. Bodegas San Martín (WineLog) was started as a collective in 1914 with about 275 growers. Like most modern wine regions in Spain, the number of members has decreased substantially since the Bodegas’ early beginnings, with about 175 members contributing to the 2011 harvest and comprised of about 480 acres of vineyard land.
We were greeted at the front of the modern wood and stone building by General Manager Eduardo León and Director of Winemaking & Enology, Gonzalo Celayeta Escudero. Both men are young and part of the newest generation of wine talent in Navarra. While very serious about their mission to craft ever higher quality wines while maintaining value, they are also quick with a smile and a laugh, brightening their dark and fine Spanish visages. One of our first questions was the origin of the mysterious word “unx” in the name of the village. Eduardo and Gonzalo said that the origin of that word has been lost to history, but that most locals attribute it to a more ancient form of the word for “rabbit” in the local dialect.
While this could become a run-on sentence for the entire #Navarra5 trip, the wines of Bodegas San Martín were pillars of high quality for the price. Two wines garnered a QPRWK wine badge, with their mix of zesty and fruitiness nicely balanced by a roundness and light creaminess for added complexity…almost unheard for a ~$7 price tag. The Ilagares Navarra Viura Blanco 2010 and Ilagares Navarra Rosado 2010 stole the early tasting show at San Martín for me for this reason. A more Old World earthiness and herbal savoriness drew me towards the Señorio de Unx Navarra Reserva 2005 and Alma de Unx Navarra Garnacha 2007, proving that Garnacha is truly a wondrous grape.
The historical portion of our day took us to two very fascinating and OLD sites among the Navarran landscape. The Church of Saint Mary of Eunate is found along El Camino de Santiago and was founded around the 12th century. It’s an extremely unusual church with its Romanesque, octagonal shape and sited relatively far from any other habitations around that time in history. While Eunate’s exact origins may never be known, it is rumored to have been founded by the Knights Templar. Regardless of its early beginnings, the beauty of the Church is almost indescribable and exudes a very old and humbling, enigmatic presence. We toured the Church following service (yes, it still has regular services throughout the week), thanks to our same wonderful guide from Pamplona.
Puente La Reina (literally: bridge of the Queen) is another historic site along the El Camino do Santiago. It was, and still is, a crucial stop along the route as it lies between the larger cities of Pamplona and Estella and most importantly, has an stunning stone bridge which pilgrims can use to safely cross the Arga river. It is an insanely beautiful stone village, still inhabited today by about 2,500 Navarrans and supports a number of glorious old churches.
Our last stop of the day was back up closer to Pamplona but due West, at the rather stunning Señorio de Otazu (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog), with General Manager, Javier Bañales Vañes. Otazu is situated in the small municipality of Etxauri, in the Tierra Estella sub-region. Here the Pyrenees begin to exert an influence, cooling what would otherwise be a hot winegrowing region. This cooling is so substantial, that Otazu actually has the most Northerly red wine and chardonnay vineyards in all of Navarra.
The estate has winemaking origins that date back all the way to the 15th century, but its modern era started in 1990 and combined two passions for a modern wine, as well as modern art. The estate grounds and buildings are dotted with a mixture of historical winemaking antiques and modern sculpture and paintings; a theme that can be also be found in the architecture and even the wines of Otazu. The ultra-modern, new winemaking facility and barrel room is breathtaking, situated behind (and below) the original historic building that doubles as an art gallery and entryway into the subterranean private tasting room and entryway into the barrel room.
I took footage in the barrel room that you can find embedded below from Vinopanion’s YouTube channel. In it Javier discusses some of the winemaking philosophy at Otazu, where the wine history and terroir of Navarra are respected, but with a modern, approachable, and über-premium perspective. Otazu makes wine, above all, that is enjoyable for the consumer, “people are asking for wine to enjoy wine.” But don’t think that their discarding all of that beautiful acidity and tasty savory dried herbs that you can find in traditional Navarran wine, “the blood of wine is acidity. nevermind muscles and bone,” ie, no flabby, fat New World wines to be had at their Estate.
The Spanish wine authorities agree with the quality of the wine at Otazu: they are one of the only estates in all of Spain that have been awarded the designation Vino de Pago, or Pago DO. These estates are considered the “First Growths” of Spain, and this DO (or Denominación de Origen) spans across Spain, it is driven purely by quality and by the vineyard and resulting wine’s ability to properly represent the best of wine from Spain. As of the end of 2011, was one of only 11 DO Pagos throughout Spain.
We tasted the small lineup of wines from Otazu in their tasting salon, just past their underground gallery and overlooking the curved lines of the tremendous cellar. While I’d had some of Otazu’s lower-priced offerings in the past, their reserva Señorío de Otazu line was very impressive. Bigger wines are featured here, but still retaining that litheness and nerve of acidity, alongside lurking leather and herbal savoriness that I love in the wines from Navarra. The Señorío de Otazu Vinos de Pago de Otazu 2006 that you see to the right garnered an AwesomeWK, as did my favorite of the day (and perhaps the whole trip), the Señorío de Otazu Navarra Altar 2006, my highest WKBadge. I can’t remember awarding this wine badge to more than one wine at a single tasting.
Following our tasting and the tour that can see above, we headed off for yet another fantastic three hour lunch…Navarrans know how to EAT. Javier took us to his favorite restaurant, which quickly became one of my own. Seriously. This resto visit has to be in the top three meals that I’ve ever had in my life, both for the food (of course and paired with Otazu flagships), but also for the absolutely mindblowing setting. We literally, LITERALLY, sat on the edge of the cliff, in the historic tiny center of Etxauri. You can hear our expressions at the end of the video above, just after we arrive at Restaurante Sarbil Jatetxea and experience foodie shock and awe. I’d say even more, but the best explanations of this meal, as well as our dinner following at the famed La Runa Sideria, have been penned by my good #Navarra5 cohort, Beau Carufel (Twitter, Facebook), on his blog Beau’s Barrel Room.
Our travels across Navarra were tagged in realtime on Twitter using the hashtag #Navarra5. The intro post in this series can be found earlier on Vinopanion, with Day 1 and Day 2 covered earlier in this series. You can find all of the photos & videos from this fabulous trip to Navarra, Spain (Twitter, Facebook) (and a little to Basque Country) on my Flickr in their own set and tagged with “Navarra5“. All of my runs that I took (including getting lost!) are on my MapMyFitness, titled “Wines of Navarra“. Lastly and most importantly, all of the awesome wines that we had from our first day are listed below and all are tagged with “Navarra5” so that you can list them in your own WineLog. Cheers!
Wines from Bodegas San Martín (WineLog):
Ilagares Navarra Viura Blanco 2010
Color: Very light yellow/green
Nose: Muted nose, but clean lemon and lime here.
Palate: Very zesty lime and some Meyer lemon into a bit of roundness and cream as the base. Great zesty and juicy lime and brief white florals in finish, very refreshing: QPRWK.
Color: Light cherry and strawberry pink, lightest pink edges.
Nose: Very juicy raspberry and rhubarb and some bigger strawberry as well.
Palate: Very juicy strawberry and a bit of watermelon, sweet fruit but a dry wine, balanced bright acidity. Very juicy and persistent raspberry finish. Tasty: QPRWK.
Ilagares Navarra Flor de Unx 2010
Alma de Unx Garnacha Baja Montaña Cepas Viejas 2010
Señorio de Unx Navarra Crianza 2007
Señorio de Unx Navarra Reserva 2005
Color: Ruby core, ruby edges.
Nose: Great earth and integrated savory oak and black fruit nose, leather, dried garden herbs.
Palate: Initial blackest sweeter fruit intro, immediately into leather and garden fennel, savory flint and great acid. Leather and finer coating tannin finish. Very good: OldWorldWK.
Alma de Unx Navarra Garnacha 2007
Color: Deeper ruby core, ruby edges.
Nose: Totally aromatic, very savory and tasty herb and spiced nose earthy oak and blackest fruit.
Palate: Big fruit intro, then the great acidity kicks in and that same earthy and savory herb combo from the nose. Finishing with some sweeter toast and the finest tannin structure, all ripe black fruit all the way: OldWorldWK.
Wines from Señorio de Otazu (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog):
Señorío de Otazu Vinos de Pago de Otazu 2006
Color: Garnet edges, med garnet edges.
Nose: Very smooth, savory and earthy and deep black fruit, with pencil lead.
Palate: extremely smooth and sensual mouthfeel, anise, new leather, deep black and red fruit, fine tannins and a coolness to the finish. Extremely good: AwesomeWK.
Señorío de Otazu Navarra Altar 2006
Color: Dark ruby, med ruby edges.
Nose: Great stony and flinty leather and earth, black fruit just barely poking through. Great.
Palate: Big wine here yet also smooth and cool. Black fruit all the way, good acidity, amazing savory components here with oak integrating and just loads complexity: AwesomeWK.
May 8, 2012
Great writeup! You added so many small details that it literally took me back to Spain. Thanks also for the shoutout, I appreciate it 🙂
May 8, 2012
Thanks so much for the comment, buddy. That’s one of things that I love so much about writing articles and editing videos for this trip: I always get to vividly revisit our trip! Thanks for the great coverage on the meals that day and night…YUM.