The wine region of Navarra in northern Spain is often said to be in the shadow of its more famous neighbor, Rioja. Navarra’s winemakers are eager to update that notion, and are letting their diverse pours speak for themselves.
Navarra, located northeast of Rioja across the Ebro River, has long been known for its pink wines, garnacha-based rosados. Hoping to compete with Rioja and make inroads in world markets, the DO (denominacion de origen) made a concerted push in the 1980s to blend indigenous tempranillo with international varietals like cabernet sauvignon and merlot. While some of these modern blends garner the attention of critics, consumers have a less-than-focused impression of the place and its potential.
In the last few years, Navarra’s regulating body has worked to sharpen the DO’s image. A revamped website aimed at US wine enthusiasts, navarrawine.us, has done away with comparisons to Rioja. Instead of pushing one flagship grape or style, diversity is heralded as its strength. The region’s geographic subzones — a cooler north, a more continental center, and a Mediterranean-like south — serve as the basis for that variety. This is primarily red wine territory, but a smattering of white varietals like viura and chardonnay are among the plantings. Wine styles span the range, from dry to sweet.
Last fall, Beatriz Ochoa was one of a dozen producers pouring her wines at a tasting hosted by chef-owner Deborah Hansen at Taberna de Haro in Brookline. Ochoa explains that her winemaker-sister, Adriana, and parents, Javier Ochoa and Mariví Aleman, have always treated wine as the fifth member of the family, calling it the “pampered child” of their household.
When you meet this sixth-generation producer, you can’t help but respond to her warmth and verve. As the general manager of Bodegas Ochoa, she tours the world introducing her family’s wines, talking up the place from which they hail.
In the town of Olite, in Navarra’s Ribera Alta, the family rebuilt the winery and made improvements to the cellar in the 1990s. Their estate encompasses nearly 360 acres of vines, from which they produce three lines of wine. Styles include young, everyday quaffs, distinguished single-vineyard pours, and a late harvest moscatel.
A 2008 Bodegas Ochoa Reserva, a blend of tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot, serves as a winning example of their wares. Crafted from the fruit of three plots on the estate, the wine is matured in cask for more than a year, before being aged several more years in bottle. On the nose, scents of red plum and black cherry combine with American oak spice and black olive. The palate is warm with alcohol but balanced, vivid with juicy acidity and mature, smooth tannins. It speaks of careful tending in the vineyard and sureness of hand in the cellar.
Beatriz smiles knowingly as we taste. She is happy to let this wine do the talking.
Bodegas Ochoa Reserva 2008 (around $25) can be found at Social Wines, South Boston, 617-268-2974; and The Wine Press, Brookline, 617-277-7020.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.