Taking my #wine kung fu to the next level: #WSET II & Napa Valley Wine Academy

406064_562298363799327_175257724_nI have been immersing myself in the study of #wine in a semi-systematic manner for much of the last 8 years.  Indeed, #Vinopanion‘s 8 year anniversary with @WineLog is approaching in the middle of this month. Yet I have slowly realized that something is lacking in my devotion to the knowledge of the vinous delights: focus, structure and external credibility. You’d think that a trained scientist would have recognized this long ago and I did notice these thoughts in the back of my mind a few years back.  But they were always battered back by “where’s the time?” and “I’m still receiving plenty of media travel & event invites,” along with “my wine consulting services continue to expand.” Then I reached last year and I started to recognize some clear patterns in my wine work. While I had plenty of media opportunities and my fellow wine colleagues were continuing to get work, I could see that the pace of my own trade offers beginning to slow down. It was then that I noticed that most of my colleagues began to sport letters after their names on their business cards: they were taking certified educational courses to formalize their wine training. I needed to set up my wine game. It was then that I contacted the good people at Napa Valley Wine Academy (FB, Tw): “help!”

Our-certification-menu-logoThe Napa Valley Wine Academy (NVWA) was founded in 2011 by longtime wine industry veterans, R. Christian Oggenfuss, D.W.S., F.W.S., I.W.P and Catherine Bugue, D.W.S., IWP. As residents of Northern California wine country, they both perceived a lack of true connection between the schools that offered wine and spirits training and the actual regions about which they taught…and thus a fine beverage academy in the Napa Valley was born!  Featuring industry educational luminaries including Master of Wines Peter Marks and Tim Hanni, as well as Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser; they are truly “one foot in the classroom and the other in the vineyards.” The NVWA has experienced tremendous industry support and strong early success, prompting them to expand to satellite locations around the US in Tampa, Florida and Santa Barbara, CA; as well as online. 

IMG_5975The NVWA instructors are spread across all of the major industry certifications, allowing the Academy to provide a full service range of official beverage certifications, including wine, spirits, saké, and beverage service, and region-specific courses. All courses and examinations are given by the academy itself, making it a one-stop educational experience, unlike many other piecemeal organizations. I have chosen to start my wine and beverage education in the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (FB, Tw, YT, NVWA) program, starting with the WSET II Award, courtesy of the NVWA.  More on those adventures later however, as I need to get studying for my first exam! ¡Salud!

#Navarra5 Day 3: The Old & the Pago

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.

[winebadge id=”61167″]

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.

[youtube width=”383″ height=”310″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5bRM9XsZ9Q&hd=1[/youtube]

 

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.

 Ilagares Navarra Rosado 2010

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

Ilagares Navarra Tinto 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):

 

Otazu Navarra Chardonnay 2009

Otazu Navarra Rosado 2010

 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.

Señorío de Otazu Navarra Vitral 2005

Mumm Napa Wine Blogger Brunch

Bubbly is a beautiful thing.  Sparkling wine has always been considered a wine of celebration; its intriguing bubbles rising up to toss forth a froth of scented effervescence, enlivening spirits at any accompanying event.  For me however, bubbly, bubbly, and more bubbly is the way that I prefer to shimmy through life.  My lady Elizabeth Fontaine, the beguiling star behind the brightness of my life, would only agree, with a most sensible of nods.  Bubbles are her vinous companion, and at times, her artistic muse.  We go through stretches where there is a bottle of bubbly to accompany each day…the other nice thing about sparkling wine is its low percent alcohol. 😉

And so it was with great fervor that we responded with a resounding YES to an invitation to attend a wine blogger luncheon last December at the renowned Mumm Napa (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog) estate in the Napa Valley, courtesy of Brand Action Team and Thea Dwelle of Luscious Lushes (Twitter, Facebook). As an interesting aside, Spoontonic Lounge (Twitter, Facebook) in Walnut Creek, one of our favorite haunts, has carried the Mumm Napa Napa Valley Brut Prestige for a little over a year.  As a number of us adopted the bubbly as our signature drink, the tasty value non-vintage cuvée spread like wildfire and proprietor Jeffrey Sun has proceeded to clear through a good amount each month.

Beth and I arrived early at the Estate, up on Silverado Trail in the Rutherford AVA.  While we’d had some poor weather earlier in the week, the sun had burst out that winter morning and was almost painfully exhilarating, sparkling through the moisture on the sleeping vines.  We greeted Thea whom arrived a few minutes after ourselves and marveled at the number of people that were lining up to visit the popular winery, prior to its 10am opening.

We entered the winery once the large wooden doors were opened, revealing the courtyard in the center of the property.  There we were greeted by Assistant Winemaker, Tamra Lotz and Mitch Davis. Mitch with his tall, clean looks and high energy, probably immediately brightened the mornings of many of the ladies in attendance.  Tamra Lotz, a fellow Vintage High alumnus and classmate, is the easy-going, highly engaging sort that you’d want to lead you on a tasty tour of her winemaking facilities.

We were also greeted with my favorite sparkling wine of the day, the fantastic 2006 Mumm Napa Napa Valley Devaux Ranch Brut. Made with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and their signature inclusion of Pinot Gris, this sparkler forced me to give it a QPRWK and AwesomeWK wine badges, yet it only clocks in at $36.  That is a phenomenal price for a wine that features this much complexity.  The fruit was sourced from their Devaux Ranch vineyard in Carneros, named for their founding winemaker, Guy Devaux.  I’d summarize my tasting notes on this wine, but I think that it deserves the full breakdown of its deliciousness:

Color: A mix of yellow gold and brighter canary highlights, a very fine bead and frothy mousse.
Nose: Fantastic, with a complex fruit mixture of drier citrus, more rounder tropical fruit and yellow apple. Cream and light brioche is here as well, along with a zing of minerality.
Palate: Also awesome, this shows that same complex mixture of fruit from the nose, along with a beautiful round and yet very vibrant and creamy palate, with that same fine bead. Dustier toast comes in as well, finishing alternating clean citrus and creamier brioche. Extremely good and actually underpriced: AwesomeWK, QPRWK.

With the Devaux Ranch in our hands, we headed off into the winery for a tour of their facilities.  Mumm Napa was founded in 1983, by M. Devaux for the G.H. Mumm Champagne house, based in Reims, France.  The winery is a well-deserved and huge destination in the Napa Valley, with its regular tours, flight tastings, permanent Ansel Adams photography collection, and rotating  photography exhibitions.  While we were there, Media Ant and Mutineer Magazine‘s own Ashley Teplin was showing many of her photos of local food and wine artisans.  It’s no wonder that they host over 130,000 visitors each year!

Tamra took us through the entire winemaking facilities that bright morning, starting with the tank room, where much of the current 2011 vintage wines were undergoing cold storage.  This process allows (harmless) tartrate crystals to precipitate out, naturally leftover in the finished wine from the brightly acidic grapes that go into sparkling and most white wines.  Most of the tanks were caked with frost, their glycol jackets at slightly freezing temperatures in order to get the wine cold enough for full stabilization.  Following the crushpad tour, we had a short blending demonstration, which clearly showed the how each of the varietal wines mentioned earlier can contribute to the wine.  Chardonnay for mouthfeel and pitted fruits, Pinot Noir for cherry fruits and further depth, Pinot Meunier for more darker fruit notes and earthiness and finally, Pinot Gris for more tropical fruits and floral notes.

Walking down the hall back to the tasting room, we encountered…BOB: their large and incredibly efficient robot that handles the bottling and handling of the wines, before they are transferred to the riddling room.  Making sparkling wine is much more manually intensive than other wines.  First you must make the still wine, filter it, and then it is time for the second dose of sugar and yeast that goes in to provide the bubbles.  It is literally a second fermentation in the bottle, for the high end Traditional Method, or “méthode traditionnelle,” as it is called around the world in the French language.  Following that, there is months to years of riddling, or the process by which the eventually spent yeast and their debris is shaken down into the neck of the bottle 1-2x per day, until it is ready to be removed for final bottling, called disgorgement.  The final act is to top off the now sparkling bottle with a syrupy mixture of still wine and sugar, called the dosage, that tops up the wine and creates the proper house balance between acidity and sweetness for that particular label.

Whew!  After all of that info, we were a bit thirsty.  We moved on into a more private area of the main tasting lounge, where Winemaker Ludovic Dervin greeted us with the warmest of smiles coming from his strong, but kindly-featured face and barrel-strength body.  Starting with a brief bio, he then began to walk us through the wines and touching upon the 2011 vintage, one which he described as “really a growers year, [with] a lot of work in the vineyard.”

Starting with the aforementioned Brut Prestige, we then traveled through almost their entire line, in the order listed below.  All of the value wines, up through the Cuvée M, all featured very bright fruit flavors and a ton of crispness in style, with a hint of cream underlying everything.  As we got into their higher end wines, I found two more that entered into my favorites.  The Mumm Napa Napa Valley DVX 2003 featured a ton of complexity, with its brioche and more Old World complexity, still brightened by great acidity and the finest of bubbles.  Additionally, the Mumm Napa Napa Valley Brut Reserve Rosé NV showed off super-crisp red and citrus fruit, alongside a great zing of cherry and minerality.  In all, both Beth and I felt that their line included sparkling wines for any palate.  Ludovic’s engaging personality and delight to answer any question made the tasting all the more entertaining and educational.

Beth’s and my own thanks go out to Brand Action Team, Thea, Tamra, Ludovic, and everyone else at Mumm Napa for the wonderful day tasting their wines and learning about their sparkling winemaking process.

You can find all of the wines listed below from that bright day at Mumm Napa (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog) in December.  They are all tagged with “MummN2011Brunch“, so that you can list them in your own WineLog.  All of the photos can be found on my Flickr in their own set and also on the Vinopanion Facebook page, in their own set. Cheers!

Mumm Napa (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog):

 Mumm Napa Napa Valley Devaux Ranch Brut 2006

Color: A mix of yellow gold and brighter canary highlights, a very fine bead and frothy mousse.

Nose: Fantastic, with a complex fruit mixture of drier citrus, more rounder tropical fruit and yellow apple.  Cream and light brioche is here as well, along with a zing of minerality.

Palate: Also awesome, this shows that same complex mixture of fruit from the nose, along with a beautiful round and yet very vibrant and creamy palate, with that same fine bead.  Dustier toast comes in as well, finishing alternating clean citrus and creamier brioche.  Extremely good and actually underpriced: AwesomeWK, QPRWK.

Mumm Napa Napa Valley Sparkling Pinot Meunier 2008

Mumm Napa Napa Valley Brut Prestige NV

Mumm Napa Napa Valley Brut Rosé NV

Mumm Napa Napa Valley Cuvée M NV

Mumm Napa Napa Valley Blanc de Blancs 2007

Mumm Napa Napa Valley Brut Reserve NV

 Mumm Napa Napa Valley DVX 2003

Color: Medium to finer bead, deeper canary yellow.

Nose: Brioche, bread, earth, dried lemon and yellow apple, all with good intensity.

Palate: Weightier, very yeasty and savory, drier apricot, peach and very dry lemon bar.  Good acid, savory and even showing some slight tannin: OldWorldWK.

 Mumm Napa Napa Valley Brut Reserve Rosé NV

Color: Beautiful strawberry pink, very fine and very robust bead.

Nose: Crisp red fruit underlaid with a nice earthiness and line of minerality.

Palate: Very vibrant feel and zesty acidity, then some weight and rounder fruit comes in, finishing with a citrus and mineral finish: OldWorldWK.

Mumm Napa Napa Valley Santana Brut NV

Mumm Napa Napa Valley Brut Prestige Extended Tirage Selection NV

Mumm Napa Napa Valley Sparkling Pinot Noir NV

 

All wines on WineLog.net from Mumm Napa:

[winelist query=”Mumm%2BNapa” num=”100″]

#Navarra5 Day 2: Lost in Iruña, Malón de Echaide, & Bodegas Finca Albret

Our second full day in Kingdom of Navarra (Twitter, Facebook) (day 3 if you’re counting our travel day) started off a bit scary, due to the usual amount of stupidity that I tend to afford myself.  As you’ve probably noticed from my previous post about Day 1 in Navarra, I love to go on a run in the cities that I visit around the world. I feel that it is one of the best ways to get to know a new foreign land and its people. Like an idiot always, I only carried my hotel keycard and a bit of cash in case I got into trouble and needed a taxi.  I then headed out way before dawn at about 5:50am to streets unknown.  Oh, and did I neglect to mention that I have absolutely no sense of direction?…I’m a total Marcus Brody. An hour later, my 20 minute jog has clearly turned into the definition of a lost tourist, replete with Spanglish as my only tool to communicate…no phone to call for a taxi, nor to even let my #Navarra5-mates know why I wouldn’t be in the lobby at 7:45am!

Not surprisingly, Navarrans don’t really like to get up early, like much of the Romantic cultures of Europe.  I was more apt to find people going to BED, rather than going to work.  The few people I did find were indeed, heading home after a long night of work or fun and knew absolutely no English, nor could I understand enough of their directions in their native Spanish.  Yet despite this, they all tried happily and desperately to help me to find my way back to the hotel.  Almost two hours later, I did find my way back with the help of multiple sleepy-eyed, kind residents of Pamplona.  My final savior was a saintly man that convinced me to walk to “mi casa, esta near La Iglesia,” or near the church that I knew was a landmark in the city and near our hotel.  As I recognized familiar storefronts and plazas, I begged off his very generous offer to cook me breakfast in his home and tiredly jogged over to the hotel.  The beautiful kindness of the people of Navarra was burned into my mind after this experience and I feel that it will never leave my heart.

Despite my long morning adventures, I did manage to stumble down to the lobby at precisely 7:45am to meet the rest of our group for our long day out in the Navarran wine country.  Our first stop of the morning was down in the southern end of Navarra, in its Ribera Baja sub-appellation.  There we encountered a smaller rural town called Cascante that includes a large bodega known as Malón de Echaide (Facebook, WineLog).  A co-op since 1951, it was founded with 1000 different grapegrowers, but with the extensive pullback in the grape growing industry in Spain over the last 15 years, their membership has been pared down to its current collective count of ~200.  The winery was in full swing when we arrived with the harvest hitting all across Navarra.  We then made the embarrassing mistake of clambering right over and onto the scale where winegrowers would weigh their grapes, in order to take some photo.   I’m sure the farmer wasn’t too pleased with Cuvée Corner‘s Bill Eyer (Twitter, Facebook), Wine Harlots Nannette Eaton (Twitter, Facebook), and myself adding to his initial tare (no scales were harmed in the making of this post).  Following our gaffe, we headed inside for a tasting of their value wines and tour of the very active winery, including their in-house bottling line, all courtesy of Patricia Ansorena Sanchez.

The wines of Malón de Echaide are a perfect example of the high level of quality for the price that you can get with the wines from Navarra.  The wines we tasted were ridiculously cheap, with the majority of them hitting your wallet for only $5 (~¢1.30)…that is, if they were available in the US.  Get on it, importers!  The most expensive of the lot we tasted, from their Viña Parot Reserva line, still would only top out at around $16 in the US.  The most fascinating wines for me were the value line, including one that garnered a WKBadge.  The 2007 Malón de Echaide Navarra Crianza, a wine that by Spanish law has been aged at the bodega for a minimum of 2 years with one of those in oak, showed incredible QPR. Featuring flint, cherry fruit and toast in the nose and all of that plus black currant and dusty tannins on the palate, this wine still is only in that (future) $5 range.

A later tour of the winery was where we discovered the active bottling plant (see the video below), along with a massive underground barrel cellar, and possibly one of the largest fermentation tanks that I’ve ever seen, at well over 100,000 gallons.

[youtube width=”383″ height=”310″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBOHTGdo8Ic[/youtube]

 

Our next stop was quite some ways away and to the north from Echaide and we had to cross the river Ebro to get to it.  The Ebro river runs through a number of famous wine regions in Spain, including both Navarra and Rioja.  We crossed it over a rather dramatic hanging white steel bridge, but I was unable to get a good shot of it from the back of our speeding minivan.  Our destination was Bodegas Finca Albret (Facebook, WineLog). It is found in the Ribera Alta sub-appellation and it is the first property developed by its parent, Bodegas Príncipe de Viana (Facebook), an older bodega and where we would later have a stunning, primarily vegetarian lunch.  Here we were greeted by Communications Manager Marifé Blanco along with Albret’s viticulturalist for a vineyard tour.

The soil of Albret is rocky alluvial, somewhat similar to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhone Valley of France.  The vines surrounding the bodega and seen in the photo to the right were Graciano, a variety and resulting varietal wine that I found to be one of my favorites from Navarra.  Marifé said that Graciano is a very challenging grape to grow, much like Pinot Noir.  In the neighboring region of Rioja, she said that they say: “Graciano?  Gracias No!” Including the Graciano, the bodega has a total of 400 acres of vineyards, both surrounding the winery and in the nearby rivers and hills.  The 2011 vintage had been good to them so far, with warm, even weather that had very little rain during harvest by that point.

Our tasting was led by the Enologist/Winemaker, Isabel Lopez de Murillas Manrique.  These wines were definitely at a higher price point than Echaide, but were still mainly in the $24 – $32 range.  My favorites were the Reservas, natch. 😉  The Albret Navarra Reserva 2006 featured a closed nose, indicating that it needed some aging, but the palate showed off some very nice ripe, juicy red and black cherry, powerful, fine tannins, and an earthier cherry tobacco finish.  Meanwhile their flagship wine, the Albret Navarra La Viña de Mi Madre Reserva 2006 also needs plenty of aging, but includes many of the flavors of the standard Reserva, plus chalkier tannin and more of a dried black fruit on the palate, along with cigar box.  Both wines garnered KeeperWK badges.

After the previously mentioned astounding lunch, we drove back up north to Pamplona and most of us took a long-awaited snooze on that longer drive back to our hotel, the Palacio Guandelain. After another brief respite, we congregated again for a guided tour of Pamplona, led by a wonderful tour guide.  Pamplona is a city of 200,000 residents year-round and can swell to over three times that many for the Festival of San Fermín, or the “Running of the Bulls,” made so famous by Ernest Hemingway.  Indeed, they have many famous landmarks within the city, devoted to Hemingway. We even were able to drink one of his favorite digestif following dinner that night, the local speciality called Pacharán. It is made from sloe berries and anisette and served over ice.  I immediately became hooked on this, being a fan of many herbal aperetis and digestifs, and was rather delighted to be drinking it at Hemingway’s old hangout, Café Iruña.  With that, we called it a night and collapsed into bed, resting up for Day 3!

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 being my previous post 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 Malón de Echaide (Facebook, WineLog):

 Malón de Echaide Navarra Crianza 2007

Color: Med ruby, light ruby edges

Nose: Ripe black cherry with light flint and touch of toast and anise.

Palate: Medium to full bodied, with bright and deep black and red fruit, light, drier coating tannins and a black currant finish. Very good for this price, if it were available in the US: QPRWK.

Malón de Echaide Navarra Rosado Garnacha 2010

Malón de Echaide Navarra Tinto Roble Garnacha 2008

 Viña Parot Navarra Reserva 2003

Color: Medium garnet, light garnet edges.

Nose: Earthy here, with still good drier black fruit, cool anise and charred earth.

Palate: Cool and bright mouthfeel with dried black fruit and tobacco with cigar box out into the lighter tannin finish and dried earth. Good: OldWorldWK.

Wines from Bodegas Finca Albret (Facebook, WineLog):

Albret Navarra Chardonnay 2010

Albret Navarra Rosado Garnacha 2010

Albret Navarra French Oak Crianza 2007

 Albret Navarra Reserva 2006

Color: Darkest garnet, darker garnet edges.

Nose: Flinty and hot, rocky earth. Fruit is closed but does have some black poking thru.

Palate: Very red cherry licorice, with lots of that savory tobacco and hot stone here as well, good acidity and powerful but fine tannins. Finish is cherry tobacco and long and earthy: KeeperWK.

 Albret Navarra La Viña de Mi Madre Reserva 2006

Color: darkest ruby, ruby edges

Nose: Cool red fruit, big fresh anise and dark cocoa as well, earth here as well. Some kind of violet florals add complexity.

Palate: Bigger acidity, supporting chalkier tannins, big anise here as well. Chocolate & tobacco, dry bigger tannin structure. Good and very young. Ends with black fruit and some of that cocoa, a bit of juiciness as well. Good but young: KeeperWK.

All of the wines from our trip to the Kingdom of Navarra (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog):

[winelist query=”Navarra5″ num=”150″]

#Navarra5 Day 1: D.O.ing Navarra, Inurrieta & Ochoa

The #Navarra5 team hit the ground running (not yet drinking) at the start of our first full day (09/19/11) in the great Kingdom of Navarra (Twitter, Facebook) with our trusty guide and F1 driver Michael “Miguel” Mantilla (ARGOS Wine Consulting/Kraynick & Associates, Inc.).  Technically I ran the day before, through parts of the glorious and small city of Pamplona, capital of Navarra/Navarre and the setting of many a famous scene in the writings of their adopted son, Ernest Hemingway.  I ran past some of his favorite haunts during that afternoon jog, past the tolling bells of the Church of San Lorenzo, and through the ruins of the Citadel.  One of my favorite ways to get to know a new city, neighborhood or surrounding land is to take a run through it’s fresh splendor.

[Update 01/14/12: The first video from our trip can be seen below, filmed at the Palacio Real de Olite.]

We jetted South from Pamplona in our trusty Citroën towards to Olite on the AP-15 to get to our first stop of the Spanish morning.  Navarra or Navarre, while it is its own nationally recognized Autonomous Region with its own government and special privileges from the federal government, it is also of course, a Denominación de Origen (DO) or federally recognized wine appellation.  There we met with Jordi Roagout (Manager) and Pilar García-Granero (DO President), where the latter gave a great overview of the Navarra DO.  The climate for Navarra is widely diverse across its 5 sub-regions, rather unusual for Spain.  As such, they are able to grow a wide mix of both “continental varietals” such as Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay, as well as varietals that are considered more typical of Spain such as Tempranillo and that Garnacha.  Our climate and soils obligate us” to market all wines from here, Pilar said.  As winegrowers and winemakers across Navarra have learned to merge their 2000 year history of grape cultivation along with modern farming and winemaking techniques, the resulting wines have changed dramatically in both style and content.  Now Tempranillo is the dominant varietal overall, at 37%, with 5% being dry whites of mainly Chardonnay and the historically dominant rosado now comprising about 25% of the current production.

“A castle is for fighting. A palace is for living.”  Javier, our guide at Palacio Real de Olite, had just started our super-fast tour of the Royal Palace and Castle at Olite, a beautiful and ancient stone city near the heart of Navarra and an internationally recognized World Heritage Site.  Charles III (or Carlos) was the original builder of the Palace, and also the insigator of much of the newer building towards the end of his life.  The whole complex is actually made up of 3 different eras of building, all of which were eventually burned and destroyed during the Napoleanic Wars, to try and dissuade the French legions from their continual plundering and occupation during those bellicose times.

[youtube width=”383″ height=”310″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTKArCjjHFU[/youtube]

 

Our first Bodega (winery) visit of the trip was the to the young and exciting Bodega Inurrieta (Facebook, WineLog). They are an estate-only winery and family owned.  They planted the first of their 568 acres of vines in 1999, in a beautiful and tiny valley near the river Arga in the Navarra sub-region of Ribera Alta.  We were initially greeted by the tall and jovial head of export sales, Jose Antonio Pellicer  He gave us a brief tour of winery which was in full harvest swing, with all of the whites and about 1/3 of the reds already in from the vineyards.  The Sauv Blanc, Cab Sauv, and Shiraz were all already in, with the Merlot having been harvested just the day before.  With this small break in the action, we had the fortune of being joined by the head winemaker (Oenologist), Kepa Segastizabal.  The warm and kindly Kepa was very engaging, and kept apologizing for his English.  He was actually quite accomplished in our language however, and was able to lead us through our tasting with minimal help from Jose.  The wines showed a lot of what I like from Spain, exhibiting great acidity, low amounts of new oak and despite the relatively young age of some of the vines, great savory characteristics as well, including a sense of place.  This whole tasty package was wrapped in a ton of value for the quality.  Indeed, the $12 2008 Bodega Inurrieta Navarra Norte was a lesson in QPRWK.  My favorite wine of the day was a mind-opening experience about the impact that Graciano could have on this region.  The 2005 Bodega Inurrieta Navarra Laderas de Inurrieta Reserva was a tremendous wine that even with its $40 US price, is still ridiculously under priced.  Ripe black and red fruit, charred earth and tobacco and fine, medium powered tannins make this juicy wine a wonderful effort.  Following this, we retired to the dining room on the property and had a delicious meal of locally grown cuisine, including the traditional Spanish dessert, Cuajada.  We were shocked at the end to find out that our chef was none other than Bodega Inurrieta founder, José Antonio Arriola!

We headed over to Bodegas Ochoa (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog), our next stop, while still happily digesting our multi-course lunch.  Bodegas Ochoa is right down the road from the Palacio Real de Olite, which was probably quite handy once upon a time, considering that the family has produced wines since they were originally well-loved by Kings Charles II and Charles III.  The Ochoa family has been crafting fine wines from their Navarran Estate in Olite for the last 6 centuries.  The current patriarch of the family, Javier Ochoa Martínez, is still the Director of the Bodega and his wife remains the Cellar Master.  The family run winery is completed by his winemaker daughter Adriana Ochoa and youngest daughter Beatriz Ochoa now handling the domestic and international marketing.  We were met by the ebullient Beatriz and Pablo Aguirre, Sales Manager.  While tasting through their wines and very enjoyable estate olive oil, we were briefly treated to a cameo by Javier, whose joyous playful demeanor is quite clearly where Beatriz gained her own.  The wines from Ochoa were even fresher than Inurrieta, yet featured that same great mix of complex ripe fruits and underlying savory herbs, earth and tobacco.  The wines were wonderfully light with their oak treatment and my palate was again delighted to find another fantastic Navarra Graciano.  The 2007 Ochoa Navarra Serie 8a Mil Gracias Graciano, named for Javier’s penchant for signing documents with a simple “8a” (Ocho-a).  It features  a deep ruby and violet color, with another great mix of dark, ripe and juicy fruit, complemented beautifully by the white pepper and violet floral finish.  The fine and chewier tannins add mouthfeel and even more pleasure.  The 8a Mil Gracias Graciano, along with the great Inurrieta effort haunted me throughout the rest of the trip with their dark complexities and were two of my favorite wines for the entire week.

Following a short break we headed back out on foot from the beautiful Palacio Guandelain for a 9 o’clock dinner.  The small 25 room hotel is clever mix of the original 18th century design and contemporary modern touches.  Originally built by the Viceroy of New Granada, it was converted to a boutique modern luxury hotel and reopened in May of last year.  We could not have had a more glamorous #Navarra5 HQ!

The stroll to the resto in the lightly cool Navarran night lasted only 10 minutes.  We were joined by Conchi Biurrun, Manager for the Navarra DO.  She led us to one of the nicest restaurants in Pamplona, called Enekorri.  The restaurant is styled hyper-modern, with dark brushed steel and wood as the predominant features.  One of the coolest ones is a basement wine cellar with a glass ceiling…ie, the floor that you walk upon!  Our food was another exercise in amazing Navarran cuisine, but each plate was completed with a modern fusion twist: Way, way YUM.  It was a brilliant end to our first full day in Navarra.  Stay tuned for Day 2…

Our travels across Navarra and Bilbao were tagged in realtime on Twitter using the hashtag #Navarra5.  The intro post in this series can be found earlier on Vinopanion. You can find all of the photos & videos from this fabulous trip to Navarra, Spain (Twitter, Facebook) (and a little in 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 Bodega Inurrieta (Facebook, WineLog):

 

 Bodega Inurrieta Navarra Orchídea Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Color: lighter yellow, clear edges

Nose: Very tart gooseberry then an underlay of cream that is just starting to fill up.

Palate: Great tart and creamier grapefruit and gooseberry medley, zesty acidity with that cream caressing the mouth as well, light white florals in the finish, bit of lemon custard as well. Very good: NewWorldWK.

Bodega Inurrieta Navarra Mediodía 2010

Bodega Inurrieta Navarra Orchídea Cuvée 2010

Bodega Inurrieta Navarra Sur 2008

Bodega Inurrieta Navarra Norte 2008

Color: Dark ruby, medium ruby core

Nose: Black and red fruit with sweeter tones to it and lightest oak.

Palate: Black flinty fruit here, stoic, then sweeter ripe cherry comes in the mid-palate, charred earth finish with balanced acidity and coating, fine tannins. Very good: QPRWK.

Bodega Inurrieta Navarra Cuatrocientos Crianza 2008

Bodega Inurrieta Navarra Altos de Inurrieta Reserva 2007

 Bodega Inurrieta Navarra Laderas de Inurrieta Reserva 2005

Color: Very dark almost inky ruby, med ruby edges

Nose: Dark fruit, earth and dust, very tight now.

Palate: Sweet and ripe black fruit, dry palate overall tho. Great charred fruit and tobacco here, with fine medium tannins, some blue fruit out into the juicy finish: AwesomeWK.

Bodega Inurrieta Navarra PV 2007

Wines from Bodegas Ochoa (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog):

Ochoa Navarra Blanco Viura & Chardonnay 2010

Ochoa Navarra Rosado Garnacha 2010

Ochoa Navarra Garnacha & Tempranillo 2010

Ochoa Navarra Crianza Tempranillo 2008

 Ochoa Navarra Serie 8a Mil Gracias Graciano 2007

Color: Deeper violet and ruby core with ruby edges, violet highlights.

Nose: Great black fruit here, closed and dusty, with white pepper and deeper violet florals. Very nice.

Palate: Beautiful, with chewy, but not overly big tannins with some fineness. Juicy acidity complements the darkest fruit here, with anise and earthiness. White pepper closes it out with those violets again. Quite an effort: AwesomeWK.

 Ochoa Navarra Reserva 2005

Color: Medium to darker ruby with ruby edges.

Nose: More fruit than anticipated, of a complex red and black medley, but then some great savory herbs, meat and earth come in, mixed with loam and leather.

Palate: Quite good, with dry, very fine tannins, wonderful acidity and black and Bing cherry, mixed with drier black fruit and deep anise. Earth, loam and leather come in here, into the more savory finish. very good: OldWorldWK.

Ochoa Navarra Dulce de Moscatel 2010

All of the wines from our trip to the Kingdom of Navarra (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog):

[winelist query=”Navarra5″ num=”150″]