A while back, I promised readers of this blog a glimpse into the rediscovery of certain grape varieties by a new generation of Spanish winemakers. To this regard, here’s (hopefully) the first post of many.
Before journeying to Rioja, I had never experienced the grape variety known as Graciano. I knew from perusing the back labels of Rioja wine bottles that this red grape existed, used primarily as a seasoning component to the Tempranillo based wines of the region. But it wasn’t until a sunny afternoon in Laserna, at Bodegas Contino, that I first sampled it as a single varietal wine.
Graciano is a native Spanish grape variety, grown primarily in Rioja, that has a bit of a checkered past. In decade’s bygone, grape growers offered the vine to propagate would typically reply to the negative (No, Gracias!). As legends go, this is how this unwanted grape got its name.
A late-ripener, it needs to be planted in a warm location to be at its best. It is also a natural low- yielding variety in comparison to Tempranillo, which didn’t endear it to wine producers bent on getting the most juice out of a vintage. In its defense, however, the grape produces vivid purple color, good alcohol and acidity.
Modern winemakers in Spain are now taking a fresh look at Graciano and the results can be spectacular. Besides Bodegas Contino, I’ve tasted varietal wines from Dinastia Vivanco, Conde de Valdemar and Marquesa Valserrano. Typically the wines show deep purple robes with scents of violets, and black fruits, mint, spice and minerals on the palate. They often show best after a short stint in the cellar and have a good track record for aging.
With certain wine critics extolling the virtues of these distinctive wines, an inquisitive wine-drinking public is taking notice. As a result, Graciano plantings in Rioja are on the increase.
It seems the time is just right to say “yes” and “thank you”.
Jim Greeley, Wine Supervisor, SW Florida