It must be the Summer making me think of Spain. Whatever the reason though, this week’s Wine of the Week is a gem of a wine and great value for money too, so perfect Wine of the Week material.
It comes from the wonderful, if under appreciated, region of Navarra. As I have mentioned before, Navarra produces a beguiling array of different wine styles, so it isn’t always easy to know what to expect. However the quality is generally high and the wines can be very exciting indeed. As regards red wines, there are mainly two types in Navarra. The more normal is wines made from Tempranillo and Cabernet / Merlot blends, while the newer speciality – or recently revived traditional style – is very fine pure Garnacha / Grenache. There are, of course a few mavericks producing a little Pinot Noir, some Graciano and Mazuelo, some Syrah even, but broadly the red wines fall into those two styles.
The Navarrans are proud of their heritage. The region was once the southern part of the medieval Kingdom of Navarre, with the northern bit being over the Pyrenees in what is now France. Much of the population was, and remains, Basque – indeed the Basques claim Navarra as theirs despite it not being part of the official Basque Region, or País Vasco. That historic French influence is very apparent in Navarran wines with most producers having added classic French grapes to their vineyards over the last 40 years or so. The majority of Navarran whites are made from Chardonnay and a great many of the reds have some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in their blends. I have even heard of a little Malbec being grown in Navarra too.
These French, or international grapes were apparently helped to return to Navarra – if indeed they had ever grown there before – by Juan Magaña who had worked in Bordeaux and wanted to create Navarran wines with the finesse and sophistication of top Bordeaux. To that end he famously smuggled cuttings over the border during the early 1970s – when Spain was still a dictatorship and near siege economy. He planted his vineyard and built Bodegas Viña Magaña in Barillas near Cascante in Ribera Baja in the deep south of Navarra. Nowadays it is so normal for Navarran wines to include Cabernet and Merlot that it is hard to realise quite what a pioneer Juan must have been.
It worked though and before long Juan’s wines were showing just what Navarra could do and it had a huge impact on the style of wines from the region. Juan has now been joined in the business by his son Diego and the 100 hectare family estate, Viña Magaña, has gone from strength to strength, producing wines of great quality and renown.
2009 Barón de Magaña
D.O. Navarra, Ribera Baja sub-zone
A blend of 35% Merlot, 35% Cabernet, 20% Tempranillo and 10% Syrah fermented separately in 228 litre Burgundy barrels. The blended wine is then aged for 14 months in French oak barrels, 70% new.
I thought this was a tremendous wine, richly fruity, superbly concentrated and showing a lovely balance between elegance and power. The colour is deep, opaque purple / ruby black. The nose shows the rich fruit, blackcurrants, blackberry and plum together with some creme de cassis, red earth, espresso, cedar wood and a dusting of spice. The palate leans towards being full-bodied and is completely dominated by the rich, sumptuous fruit at the moment. There is freshness from a cleansing seam of acidity though, while the tannins are there giving a classy fine grain feel to the finish and the coffee and mocha oak gives the wine an extra polish and class. This is deliciously drinkable and bright right now, but there is enough structure to show that it will age beautifully over the next 4 years or so – 91/100 points, Robert Parker gave it 93!
Personally I think this is a remarkable wine for the price, beautifully made and full of character. It will age beautifully over many years, which makes it a very good value wine to keep in your cellar – no one will ever guess how cheap it was I assure you.
Serve it at dinner parties with lamb and rich meat dishes, but above all do try this delicious and great value wine.