By Rose Murray Brown MW    Published in The Scotsman 23 April 2016


Best known for its annual bull-running festival in Pamplona and its acres of white asparagus, red peppers and succulent artichokes, Navarra is also home to some of the world’s oldest Garnacha vines – offering drinkers some of Spain’s best value reds.

Navarra wine taste testBeautiful rugged Navarra, stretching from the high Pyrenees in Spain’s Basque country down to the sandy banks of the River Ebro, is a fascinating diverse wine region – but few in the UK have discovered the wines.

The reason.  Navarra is completely overshadowed by its larger neighbour, Rioja.  With their strong resemblance in style and similar grape varieties, like Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano, the smaller Navarra region always plays second fiddle on wine lists to more popular Rioja.  (Pictured above right: Bodegas Sarria vineyards in Navarra). 

If you were to compare the two regions side by side, Navarra reds tend to have slightly higher acidity and more structure on the palate – this derives from the more mountainous terrain and higher altitude vineyards. 

90% of Navarra’s wines are red.  These in my opinion are their best wines – and its real treasure trove is its 100 year old Garnacha vines (pictured right: Elisa Ucar of Domaines Lupier in their Garnacha vineyard) which, until recently, were largely abandoned in Navarra in a stampede to grow better known international varietals like Cabernet and Merlot.

Undoubtedly the best Navarra wines are made from the gnarled old Garnacha vines – but in the UK, Navarra is still best known for its cheap easy-going Garnacha-based roses. 

What I find interesting about Navarra is its diversity.  This ancient wine region – which lies on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella – has no less than five sub-regions which range from starkly beautiful mountainous zone of northerly Tierra Estella (limestone soils) and Valdizarbe (chalky soils) down to lowland Ribera Baja (sandy alluvial soils) by the River Ebro. 

Many of the best known wineries have been in the same family for generations, like Bodegas Ochoa who makes excellent Gran Reserva reds.  Bodegas Julian Chivite has been in the family since 1647, but today they make wine across Spain from Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Rueda as well as Navarra.  They seem reluctant to fly the flag for Navarra due to its cheap wine image abroad.

Vina Zorzal Garnacha Malayeto The Wine Society wine reviewWhat is needed is an influx of newcomers.  Enter the Andre Sanz and his sons Xabi and Inaki at Vina Zorzal in Corella village (pictured: Vina Zorzal Malayeto single vineyard Garnacha) and the funky new Bodegas La Calandria run by Javier Continente – both based in Ribera Baja south of Zaragoza.  These two show – at opposite ends of the price spectrum – what Navarra can achieve in the hands of those with ambition.

Some of the best wines I have tasted in Navarra are made by Bodegas Artazuri (see star buy below) – a good example of how Navarra has benefited from outsiders. Juan Carlos Lopez de Lacalle made his name with his Bodegas Artadi in neighbouring Rioja, then moved across the border to neighbouring Navarra to run Bodegas Artazuri in the village of Santa Cruz focusing on just 100% Garnacha wines.

Vintages vary in Navarra – with the best recent vintage being 2010; buy up any from this vintage if you find them.  2012’s are ripe and succulent, whilst the cooler 2013 vintage offers fresh youthful crunchier fruits.



(£7 Sainsbury’s)
This typifies the best of the cheaper end of Navarra reds: bright fresh juicy fruits which reminds me of a warm peppery sweet southern Italian red, rather than anything else from Spain.  Good value as an undemanding easy quaffer: 13%


Vina Zorzal Garnacha The Wine SocietyVINA ZORZAL GARNACHA JOVEN 2014
(£6.50 The Wine Society; Indigo Wines; £10 Scarlet Wines; Yorkshire Vintners & other independent winemerchants)
Tasters loved the smooth juicy crunchy black and red fruits in this light easy-quaffing unoaked Garnacha.  This shows what good value Navarra Garnacha can be.  A fantastic buy at under £7: 14%


(£6.95 The Wine Society
Graciano is an interesting grape with spicy aromas, higher acidity and firm tannins, but in my opinion it does not quite work on its own here; it would be better to have included some Garnacha to soften the blend.  Tasters found this too austere, taut and bitter on the finish: 13.5%


Navarra red wine Waitrose reviewedSAN ANTOLIN RESERVA NAVARRA 2005 Bodegas Sarria   
***STAR BUY***
(£9.99 Waitrose)
Good to find a supermarket selling a Navarra red with some age.  Mellow savoury with sweet warm spicy flavours on the palate.  Smooth easy blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Graciano – would suit anyone who normally searches out Rioja bargains.  Watch out as this can often be found on promotion below today’s price: 14%

(£7.99 / £8.99 Majestic Wine)
For many years this has been my staple value Navarra red, but in the cooler 2013 vintage it has a bit more structure and less complexity in comparison to past vintages.  El Chaparrel’s name comes from the Chaparros oak forests near Nekeas valley: 14.3%


***STAR BUY***
(£9.95 The Wine Society
This single vineyard Garnacha is a more powerful spicier wine than Vina Zorzal’s softer unoaked Joven (above) from higher altitude vineyards.  A high scorer for tasters who love Big Reds; with spicy, peppery, dense fruits – an intense and concentrated Garnacha: 14%


ARTAZURI GARNACHA 2013 Bodegas Artazuri  
***STAR BUY***

(£11.99 Berry Bros & Rudd; Ocado)
Very popular with tasters at our recent Spanish tasting who loved its licquorice, damson and bitter chocolate flavours and light cedary undertones from 4 months French oak.  Its depth of flavour and velvet smooth palate eclipsed Riojans at twice the price in the tasting.  Made by the legendary Juan Carlos Lopez de Lacalle in Navarra who made his name with his Riojan Bodegas Artadi.  Brilliant wine – affordable and approachable – buy it if you can find it: 14.5%

TIERGA PURA GARNACHA 2010 Bodegas La Calandria
(£31.95 Berry Bros & Rudd           
Winemaker Javier Continente wanted to make a wine which stained his lips purple.  He has certainly succeeded with this blockbuster red.  Very intense, densely packed ‘organic’ Garnacha with a long lingering finish.  A very good wine – but watch out for the hefty alcohol level (the 2008 vintage has 16%!) and hefty price tag: 15%


Join Rose’s ‘Taste of Scotland’ Food & Wine Tasting at Abode Hotel, 129 Bath Street, Glasgow on Friday 1 July £40

wine tastings

The perfect gift for the wine enthusiast in the family. Rose does In-person tastings too.

cellar advice

Rose does cellar valuations for private clients, valuations for insurers & bespoke portfolio management.

Related stories

  • March 31, 2024

    By Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 30 March 2024 On 2 February 1659, the first wine made from grapes grown in South Africa was crafted by the Governor of the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck.  He had planted vines four years earlier in the Company’s Garden near Cape Town from cuttings imported from France. Van Riebeeck’s first

  • March 24, 2024

    By Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 16 March 2024 Heatwaves and bushfires were very much on the agenda when I visited Chile last month as winemakers prepared for their 2024 harvest in blistering heat and drought, with a plume of smoke from the devastating fires lingering over coastal hills. Heat and drought are the greatest challenges

  • March 23, 2024

    By Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 9 March 2024 I have two glasses of Malbec in my hands from the same high-altitude vineyard in Uco valley in Argentina. I am in the Catena Institute of Wine in Mendoza with winemaker Agustin Silva.  He has asked me to taste the two wines, both from the 1500m high