Navarra’s history has been closely linked to wine and vine since Roman times. The earliest records date back to 750 B C soon after the Ebro Valley was conquered and occupied by the armies of Tiberius Sempronius Gracus.
Romans, Moors, and pilgrims, on their way to Santiago de Compostella have all left their mark. The ancient kingdom of Navarra played an active role in the shaping of modern Europe, and since joining the Castillian crown, has been successful in retaining its identity. This fortunate circumstance is mainly due to Navarra’s advantageous geographical location in eastern Spain, which represents a “doorway” to Central Europe.
In 75 B C when Pompeii came to Pamplona and made it his war head quarters against Julius Cesar, his soldiers were busy planting new vineyards and maintaining old ones.
At its height, the Kingdom of Navarra (Sancho El Mayor 1005 – 1035) stretched from Bordeaux to Barcelona encompassing part of Castille and Rioja. During the 14th and 15th centuries (Carlos III) ver jus wine (a blend of local and imported grapes) was the most acclaimed in the region.
In fact Dom Perignon, the inventor of Methode Champenoise, studied grape cultivation and must fermentation techniques in Navarra. Later in Haut Villiers, in Champagne, he refined what he had learned there.
The natural shelter of the Pyrenees mountains protect the vineyards from cold easterly winds, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north-west provides cool breezes that help fluctuate diurnal temperatures so important for growing aromatic grapes.
Summers are hot (maximum temperature 30 C, minimum 15 C) and winters mild. The climate is ideal for viticulture.
Navarra’s soils consist mainly of chalky and light clay, rocky and clay mixed with minerals. Vineyards are located between 400 – 800 metres above sea level in the center zone, and 250 – 500 metres in the Lower Ribera region.
Traditionally, Garnacha (Grenache), Tempranillo, and Monastrell (Mourvedre) were planted, but today Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are preferred.
Wine makers like Garnache for rose wines, but they tend to oxidize fast. Garnacha-based rose wines must be sold and consumed within a year or two after harvest to taste their best.
For white wines, Viura, Graciano and Malvasia are employed. Most wine makers blend all three in different proportions to achieve desirable taste, texture and balance.
Navarra’s oenolgists strive for terroir expression in their wines and with modern vineyard and winery technology; seem to be more successful with every passing vintage.
Yield per hectare for white grapes are restricted to 10 tonnes, and for reds eight tonnes. Irrigation is prohibited but Navarra’s vineyards naturally receive sufficient precipitation. Harvest begins early October and is generally completed by mid-November.
Red wines are barrel-fermented and forced to undergo their malo-lactic fermentation before Christmas.
Generally 225-litre capacity barriques are employed for aging with frequent rackings to remove impurities. After bottling, wines undergo a bottle-aging period.
Red wines are labelled sin crianza (no aging), crianza (six months of barrel and six of bottle aging), reserva (two years of cask aging, one of which must be in barrel), gran reserva indicates four years of aging (two years in barrel and two in bottle).
All Navarra wines are competitively priced to gain market share both in Spain and abroad.
Navarra’s D.O.red wines represent excellent value. They are dark in colour, full-bodied, well-extracted, flavourful, balanced and smooth, with long satisfying aftertaste.
Garnacha-based rose wines exude pleasant, fruit aromas and are refreshing.
Navarra’s white wines, particularly those of Bodegas Julian Chivite are fragrant and refined, deeply flavoured and superbly balanced.
Rioja, Penedes and Ribera del Duero enjoy more exulted reputations than Navarra, thus force wineries to price competitively. Consumers win every time they buy a bottle of Navarra wine, particularly from Bodegas Julian Chivite, which is still family-owned and managed.
This winery’s wines grace the tables of Juan Carlos (King of Spain), visiting presidents and dignitaries. Even the inauguration ceremonies of the famous F.Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao featured Julian Chivite wines.
The first documents of Bodegas Julian Chivite date back to 1647, and to celebrate the
125th anniversary, the Collecion 125 was created in 1985. This represents the prestige line, and only fruits grown on the estates of Semeriode, Arianza, Alberin and Novarra are used to achieve the highest possible quality. Julian Chivite’s guiding philosophy still today is “quality first”, which sets a 5500 kg. fruit per hectare limit.
Collecion 125 red wines are always reserva quality and blended in Bordeaux-style.
Although primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are used, on occasion Tempranillo and Garnacha may be introduced to bolster colour and/or flavour.
Red Gran Reserva wines on the other hand consist of 100 percent Tempranillo, and lean more to traditional wines with more oak and long aging.
The Gran Feudo line of Chivite is marketed more aggressively in North America because of its compatibility with the palates of consumers. These wines tend to be more fruit-forward, youthful, zesty, dark in colour, and are enjoyable shortly after bottling.
Bodegas Julian Chivite’s Garnacha-based rose wines are particularly successful due to their delicacy, appealing fruit aromas and freshness.
Regardless of Chivite’s dry wine successes, the late harvest Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains a.k.a Muscat d’Alexandrie is the sweet wine of incomparable aroma and depth.
Julian Chivite specializes in varietal wines, one of the few in Spain. Their wines are exported to many countries including Canada, and especially Ontario.