Navarra: Camino de Santiago, Camino de Vino

July 8, 2011 11:41 am - Posted by Tracy in Drink

When we arrive, the town of Puente la Reina (Queen’s Bridge) is bustling with activity – people sit outside in cafes and bars enjoying tapas and other treats in the summer’s afternoon. A veritable tower of Babel, a mix of languages and accents are heard as we catch snippets of conversations when we pass by. The year is 2011, but we would have found a nearly identical scene had it been 1211.

Situated along the Camino de Santiago (Pilgrim’s Way), Puente la Reina, located within Spain’s region of Navarra, is just one of the many towns that were built to provide the pilgrims with food and shelter as they made their way to Santiago de Campostela. Coming from England, France, Germany and elsewhere throughout Europe, these pilgrims brought their customs, cultures and vines as they passed through. Evidence of their visits remains with numerous churches dotting the Navarran landscape.

Such history is everywhere. At the Otazu winery, General Manager, Javier Bañales, leads us through the old cellars, stopping to point out an alter that dates to the 14th century. Yet, after walking the long corridor, we turn to our right and are confronted by a set of glass doors that serve as the entrance to the new barrel room completed in 1996. Though just steps away, we are suddenly transported seven centuries to what is best described as a modern temple truly dedicated to Bacchus. The 1,000+ French oak barrels resting under a vaulted ceiling were produced by Taransaud, considered to be among the Ferraris of coopers. In fact, Javi (as he asks us to call him) explains that Taransaud wouldn’t permit them to make a purchase until it tasted the Otazu wines to be sure they were worthy of his barrels.

Taransaud isn’t the only one to appreciate the quality of Otazu’s wines. In 2009, Otazu was awarded the Pago designation. This designation supersedes the DOCa level and is only awarded to very best estates (to date, there are only 10 Vinos de Pago throughout all of Spain).

Situated in northern Spain, Navarra’s cool climate is more indicative of Bordeaux than the more Mediterranean climates associated with southern Spain. Accordingly, Otazu’s vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as Chardonnay and Tempranillo. After tasting through the wines, including the flagship Pago de Otazu, Altar and Vitral, it is clear that Otazu is a welcome stop along our way.

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