It’s not often I come across a completely new wine these days. But that’s what happened when I was wandering through the vineyards of Rioja a few weeks ago at harvest time. Intriguingly, it is a wine made from a grape variety that has been around for more than a century. The grape varietal in question has the beautiful name: Graciano. It’s a name that suits it well, since it has enormous grace and elegance. It grows almost exclusively in Spain in Rioja and Navarra and not so long ago was so unpopular among wine growers that it was being grubbed up everywhere and was on the verge of becoming endangered.
Graciano is special for two reasons: its colour and its aroma. It has a deep, dense hue that looks as if it could stain the inside of the glass and a powerful, rich mulberry and chocolatey nose. As a result it has been an invaluable bridesmaid in the Rioja blend. Traditional Riojas include 10-15 per cent Graciano to give more oomph to the predominant Tempranillo.
The problem for Graciano is it’s a troublesome grape to grow. It’s susceptible to mildew even in the dry Rioja climate and it also has low yields. As a result, until a decade ago, Spanish wine growers were enthusiastically abandoning it in favour of more obedient varieties.
Its rescue from obscurity is largely down to one man, Jesus de Madrazo, the chief winemaker at Contino, the magical single estate Rioja producer. It was his idea to produce a wine that was 100 per cent Graciano. In a region as strictly regulated as Rioja, this idea was little short of revolutionary.
When I tasted the Contino Graciano the other day I was bowled over. It had an extraordinary density of colour, a powerful nose of blackberries and tobacco and a magnificent taste with a long finish – like nothing I’ve encountered in the wine world before. Looking at my notes from that tasting I must have run out of superlatives and exclamation marks before the glass was empty. This is one for real connoisseurs, and it’s readily available through Templar Wines, which is offering a case of six of the 2007 for just under £240, with free delivery.
Since Contino produced its Graciano, it has inevitably attracted some imitators and there are now a dozen or so other wineries producing 100 per cent varieties. In the past few weeks I have been tasting a few to see if they measure up (they take some tracking down; Graciano drinking seems to be a minority pastime on a par with gut barging and cheese rolling).
To be honest, the experience has been a little mixed. Naked Wines was a while ago selling the lovely Morum 2012 Graciano by Carlos Rodriguez, which is delightful although lacks intensity of the Contino. But it was a bargain at under £10 a bottle and has now sold out, so I am relieved I put a few aside. Naked Wines was also apparently stocking an organic Graciano – but that too has all gone.
Then the nice people at Gonsalez Byass sent me two further examples – a Beronia Graciano 2010 and a Finca Constancia Parcela 12 Graciano 2011 from Castile, La Mancha, Spain. Both of these were reasonable drinking, although the Finca Constancia tasted a little overripe. Perhaps I am being too picky, since I tried both of these after a long day in the office, rather than lazing in the Iberian sun. What they all share is that extraordinary, intense colour and powerful aroma. Certainly they all have had rave reviews when I share them with others. The Beronia is at least easily available and affordable (£11.49, the drinkshop.com).
So next time you feel like drinking something memorable with a good story attached, search out a Graciano – and let me know how you get on.