Regional profile: DO Navarra
The Spanish region Navarra was an independent kingdom until it signed over its independence to King Ferdinand in 1512. The local wine seem to have enjoyed a good reputation and was consumed by pilgrims en route towards Santiago de Compostela. The denomination of origin `DO Navarra´ was created in 1975, it encompasses a region shaped like an inverted triangle and stretches south from Pamplona for 100 kilometres covering a range of soil-types. To the north the climate is cooler and elevation higher, and the southern regions enjoy a more Mediterranean climate with dry summers. On the national wine market Navarra is most known for its fruity and dark coloured rosé, a style that has not changed even though many modern consumers seems to prefer paler-coloured wines. There is 2,036 vine growers and 89 wineries producing DO Navarra wine in 2018
The growth of the cooperative movement during the last century did not result in a region famous for its quality wine. The dramatic lack of lustre on the bulk-side, is perhaps more due to decisions in the 1970s to copy neighbouring Rioja and plant more Tempranillo. To the defence of Navarra one could argue that, even among experts, the importance of the soil was still heavily debated. Today we know that much of Navarra is not especially well suited to Tempranillo. That being said, there are plenty of correct, and even attractive, bulk wines available from Navarra. Buyers should especially take a look at international varieties like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Generally it’s a good advice to avoid Tempranillo as prices are higher than in Castilla La Mancha but of no finer quality.
Size and sub-regions
DO Navarra has a total of 10,294 hectares of vineyards separated into 5 sub-zones. It’s estimated that the total vineyard acreage before the phylloxera was 50,000 hectares.
This is the largest vineyard area of Navarra, a full 3749 hectares. It’s the very centre of the region and the soils and climate varies according to village.
This area of 2981 hectares can be understood as the “Rioja Baja” of Navarra, it’s the hottest and driest area.
A smaller sub-zone of 1417 hectares that is said to have the largest amount of limestone in the soils.
Bordering to Aragón in the north-east of Navarra, here is where the finest old vineyards with Garnacha are located. Its size amounts to 1426 hectares.
Just 721 hectares large, Valdizarbe is the smallest sub-zone just south of Pamplona. Its soils are considerably chalky.
The total production of DO Navarra is in slow decline, 15 years ago it was not uncommon with harvests 20% or even 40% larger than today. The main declines have been in Tempranillo, something that by most experts is considered beneficial. White grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc and Malvasia that was not planted 10 years ago and are gaining more ground by the year. Cooperatives and private enterprises are both common, with about two-thirds of the total production deriving from the latter. The famous rosé wines of the region has always been made with Garnacha, but a new tendency is to also incorporate other grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo.
In terms of plantation acreage separated by grape, the most common grapes are Tempranillo (32%), a variety that was gaining ground in the period 1970-2000. Today Tempranillo is in decline, something that is welcomed by many producers and consumers. The second most planted grape is the traditional speciality Garnacha (23%) a grape that in the beginning of the 1980s, was planted at a full 90 per cent of the vineyards. Then follows Cabernet Sauvignon (13%) and Merlot (13%). In whites, Chardonnay has 5,5% of the total, followed by Viura (2,5%) and Moscatel (1,3%). Old vines above 40 years are commonly of the Garnacha variety. Most Tempranillo vines are from 10 to 25 years of age.
The DO Navarra wants to facilitate a move towards sustainable practices and has announced its participation in the project known as `Smart Sustainable Wine Navarra´. The project is still developing but aims to create a common framework, a Modus Operandi for sustainable wine production in Navarra.
– We are very excited about this project and hope it can give an added value to the final consumer, both within the country and on export markets, said David Palacios the president of the DO.
Arínzano; whose winemaker Manuel Louzada previously managed the winemaking at famed Numanthia. Artazu; the arrival of Artadi to Navarra in 1996 has benefited the reputation of the region. Baja Montaña; relatively new project by Fernando Chivite making top-rosado. La Calandria; innovative producer and garnachista making some of the finest wines. Domaines Lupier; launched in 2008 and still only focusing on old-vine garnacha. Nekeas; a good address for cool climate wines from the foot of the Pyrenees. San Martin; a cooperative that manages 600 hectares of dry-farmed vineyards. The DO Navarra has recognised 5 `Vinos de Pago´ that in theory should be of especially high quality; Pago Señorío de Arínzano, Pago Prado de Irache, Pago de Otazu, Pago de Larrainzar y Pago Finca Bolandín.
In the national market, wines from Navarra is almost exclusively consumed within the region, only the rosados are still enjoying some national love. It’s proven a considerable challenge for Navarra wine to gain the hearts of the national consumer. In 2018, 14 million litres where consumed within Navarra, while Madrid and Barcelona together just purchased around 800,000 litres combined. On the export side, we can see that famously price sensitive markets are the most enthusiastic buyers. The total exports amounted to 10.319.711 litres in 2018. China is by a large margin the biggest export market with 2,5 million litres purchased in 2018. Germany imported 1,7 million litres, the same volume as the UK. Other reasonably large markets are Holland, USA, Canada, Switzerland and Norway. A special target market for 2019 has been Mexico, special events has been held by the DO with the aims to increase the exports. A mere 80,000 litres where exported to Mexico in 2018, most of it, red.
The 2018 vintage is categorised as “muy buena” (very good) by DO Navarra. Both spring and summer had their complications in the vineyards, but because of a nearly perfect September the crop was saved. The harvest started, as usual, in the hotter Ribera Baja zone, as customary, with the early ripening white grapes. The total harvest was 78 million kilos, 30% up on 2017.
Navarra – still tormented by bad decisions
Navarra wine has suffered greatly from strategical decisions made when the DO was still an infant. British wine writers where among the ones that supported the “modernisation” of Navarra wine in the 1980s and 1990s, today the next generation of wine influencers consider the whole thing a mistake. What happened was that old vines of Garnacha where replaced by young highly productive vines of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The marketing research done by DO Navarra concluded that this would be welcome by consumers. In retrospect we can see that it became challenging to convince the export markets that Navarra was a better source of international varieties than e.g. Chile or Australia. The national reputation of Navarra wine gradually became that of “poor mans Rioja”, much due to copy-cat marketing (following the Rioja-model) and the inability of the cooperatives to think creatively about their unique selling proposition. A second blow to the sales of the Navarra wine came with the increase of popularity of the Provence-style rosé, a wine that is considerably less coloured that the traditional Navarra rosado. While winemakers in Rioja where fast with catering to the fashionable pale-coloured rosé style, the producers in Navarra decided to stick with tradition and take the hit. Needless to say the rosé-sales of Navarra have gone down, while the market of rosé has increased considerably. Luckily enough, there is still a large local consumer base for the traditional Navarra rosado.
- The total vineyard of DO Navarra is 10,500 hectares
- There is currently active 89 wineries in Navarra
- The wine exports amounted to 10.319.711 litres in 2018
- The demand for pale-coloured pink wines internationally has been damaging
- The denomination of origin `DO Navarra´ was created in 1975
For more information, contact your VINEX Regional Manager here