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Of all the white wine grape varietals, surely the one which has spread the furthest and is most widely appreciated is the Chardonnay. This green skinned grape is now grown all over the Old and New Worlds, from New Zealand to the Americas, from England to Chile, and is one of the first varietals people think of when considering white wine grapes. Perhaps this is because of its huge popularity which reached a peak in the 1990s, thanks to new technologies combining with traditional methods to bring the very best features out of the Chardonnay grape, and allow its unique qualities to shine through. Most fine Chardonnay wines use a process known as malolactic fermentation, wherein the malic acids in the grape juice are converted to lactic acids, allowing a creamier, buttery nature to come forward in the wine. No grape varietal is better suited to this process than Chardonnay, which manages to balance these silky, creamy notes with fresh white fruit flavors beautifully.
The Spanish wine region of Navarra is a seriously big one. This vast space covers over a hundred kilometers, and within the region you can find almost every climatic condition imaginable in Europe. From the semi-desert of the south, near the Bardenas Reales national park, to the northern mountains where the air is damp and the terrain lush and green, this is a region of real variety and range. As you might expect from such a far-reaching bit of wine country, the wines you find in Navarra vary from one extreme to the other. In some ways, this can present Spanish wine fans with a bit of a problem, as Navarra doesn’t really have any singular, identifiable wine style. However, thanks to the dedication of the vintners who work this disparate terroirs, there’s plenty to explore and several gems to uncover.
The temperate regions to the north, in the shadow of the mountain ranges that criss-cross the country produce remarkably fine imported French white wine varietals, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The mineral rich soils it the foothills are brought forward beautifully in the wines, which are quite distinct from their French cousins. The winemakers of Navarra have also experimented a lot with French style blends over the past two decades, bringing Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon together with the native Tempranillo grape. However, Navarra is principally rose country, and the Garnacha grape varietal thrives in the vineyards which cover this huge and historic region.
Ever since the Phoenicians and Romans brought their knowledge of vine cultivation to Spanish soils, the country's culture has grown alongside wine production, with wine being a vital part of Spanish identity and Spanish traditions. Each region of Spain has a wine quite distinct from the others, and it is produced by smallholders and families as much as it is by large companies and established wineries. From the relatively mild and lush regions of La Rioja to the arid plateaus that surround Madrid, grapes are grown in abundance for the now booming Spanish wine industry, and new laws and regulations have recently been put in place to keep the country's standards high. By combining traditional practices with modern technology, Spanish wineries are continuing to produce distinctive wines of great character, flavor and aroma, with the focus shifting in recent decades to quality over quantity.