Inside Rioja Visits the Navarra Vinofest


Navarra holds a special place in my heart. It’s one of Spain’s most beautiful regions, from the rolling green hills of the pre-Pyrenees in the north to valleys carved by rushing rivers and dotted with picturesque villages and the muted green and ochre landscape on the banks of the Ebro river.

My love for the place is enhanced by the magic of the “fiesta” of San Fermín in Pamplona from July 6 through the 14th that I first experienced in 1971 and have been returning to almost every year.

No one can say they’ve experienced Navarra without tasting the wines produced there. For many years Navarra wines lived in the shadow of their southerly neighbor Rioja and sales stagnated. The Navarrese took a bold step a few years ago by approving the use of several international grape varieties – cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and syrah for reds and chardonnay, muscatel and sauvignon blanc for whites to differentiate themselves from Rioja. Another smart move was to keep the old vine garnacha that grew in the Ebro valley while Rioja pulled theirs up to plant more tempranillo.

Several weeks ago, the DO Navarra organized a wine festival in Pamplona to highlight the wines from 29 producers. It was a great chance to see what Navarra was up to wine-wise.

It would have been impossible to taste everything so I concentrated on whites made from “international” varietals and garnacha-based reds (plus a few others that caught my eye – or should I say, nose).

These are the wines I enjoyed most:

Bodega Inurrieta

For me, the clear winner of the day.

  • Inurrieta Orchidea sauvignon blanc 2017
  • Inurrieta Mimao garnacha 2016
  • Altos de Inurrieta reserve 2013


Finca Albret

  • Albret La Viña de Mi Madre 2013

Bodegas La Casa de Lúculo

  • Lúculo Origen crianza 2016

Bodegas Lezaun

  • Lezaun tempranillo 2107 (carbonic maceration)

Bodegas Ochoa

MDO Moscato frizzante (a slightly sparkling moscato – a category that’s taking Spain by storm!)

Bodegas San Martín

  • Señorío de Unx garnacha blanca 2017


  • Inmune tinto 2017


Bodegas Castillo de Monjardín

  • Castillo Monjardín chardonnay 2017
  • Castillo Monjardín chardonnay reserva 2015

Bodegas Máximo Abete

  • Guerinda La Abejera tinto madera 2014

Bodegas Nekeas

  • El Chaparral tinto 2016

Bodegas Pagos de Aráiz

  • Pagos de Aráiz roble 2015

After the tasting we had a pintxo at the Café Roch (Pamplona’s oldest bar), lunch around the corner at Catachu and a gin & tonic (the best ones in town!) at the Bar Baviera. We slept on the bus back to Logroño. It was a perfect day!

I urge you to take a look around your favorite wine shop or check out Wine Searcher for wines from Navarra. They deserve wider recognition.






The Know-It-All

Most of the time I enjoy being in the wine business, but sometimes I think it’s a curse. Last week my wife and I were invited to a friend’s birthday lunch.  There were several people present whom we didn’t know and when the host asked me to choose the wine, the inevitable happened.  As soon as one of the other guests, whom I didn’t know, found out I was in the wine business he immediately tried to impress me with his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject.

Wine is an interesting topic (at least I think it is) so I suppose I should be flattered when someone wants to talk about it in a country where wine consumption is at an all time low.  But I usually get upset because the first comments I inevitably hear are:

  • “The best wine in Spain is from my village.”
  • “Most Rioja wine comes from other parts of Spain, especially from La Mancha.”

If the conversation stays on the first topic I consider it a victory, because it leads into a discussion about other great things about village life – long walks down dusty roads, card games after lunch, this year’s crop and the local festival.

But if the person insists on debating the second point, the conversation can take an ugly turn because even though it’s easy to refute the argument, we’ve entered into the realm of Spanish obstinacy.  Arguments (called discusiones in Spanish) are usually two or more people talking at the same time, each expounding their own ideas which they defend vigorously, while at the same time ignoring what the other people are saying. 

The Spanish have an expression to describe it:  diálogo de besugos.  Literally, a conversation between two sea breams (a popular type of fish).  Imagine looking at fish in a tank – they open and close their mouths but no sound comes out. It’s people talking at rather than to each other.

What do I say when people say that most Rioja wine comes from other parts of Spain?  The non-Spanish approach would be to argue the point:

  • it’s almost impossible because the control and inspection procedures in Rioja are so strict, and if you get caught, the fine is likely to bankrupt you (there have been instances of this);
  • given the current oversupply of wine, prices are low and it doesn’t make economic sense.

But when in Spain, you have to take the Spanish approach.  Arguments are a part of daily life here and people consider them a sport.  If you don’t know how to talk (or argue) about football or politics you’ll be bored stiff. You smile (very important) and say, “Bah, qué ridículo.  No tienes ni puta idea.” (“That’s ridiculous.  You don’t have a f***ing clue.”) Then you order another round of drinks. It works every time.