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The Graciano Grape

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About Graciano

(Synonyms: Bastardo Nero, Bois Dur, Bordelais, Cagliunari, Cagnonale, Cagnovali Nero, Cagnulari, Cagnulari Bastardo, Cagnulari Sardo, Cagnulatu, Caldareddu, Caldarello, Cargo Muol, Cendrón, Courouillade, Courouillade, Couthurier, Drug, Graciana, Graciano Tinto, Grosse Negrette, Jerusano, Karis, Marastel, Matarou, Minostello, Minustello, Monastel, Monestaou, Morastel, Morestel, Morrastel, Mourastel, Perpignan, Perpignanou Bois Dur, Plant De Ledenon, Tanat Gris, Tinta Do Padre Antonio, Tinta Miuda, Tintilla, Tintilla de Rota, Uva Cagnelata, Xeres, Xerez, Zinzillosa)


Graciano grapes Map showing Rioja

Graciano is a red-wine grape originating in the Rioja region of Spain. Spanish wines, like most Old World wines, are typically blends named for the region from which they spring. In Rioja wines, Graciano was usually a small percentage of the blend (though important, contributing structure and aging potential). Of late, its use had been fading, owing to the vines' being quite low yielding.

(As the FringeWine blog puts it, "One might be inclined to think that Graciano has been relegated to blending grape status because it is an inferior grape. In fact, Oz Clarke says that it is 'far and away the most interesting red vine in Rioja', and Jancis Robinson writes 'it is to the Riojanos' shame that so little Graciano survives in their vineyards today.' If the wine is so good, then why, as recently as 1999, was vineyard acreage so low that the Spanish government was giving subsidies for planting Graciano in Rioja vineyards? The answer is that Graciano is notoriously low-yielding and susceptible to downy mildew, which means it needs more attention in the vineyards. It's an economic decision that it's hard to find fault with on a large scale.")

Recently, though, with wider recognition of the grape's ability to produce powerfully aromatic wines of deep color and intense, distinctive flavor that age very well (Oz Clarke's remarks on that notwithstanding), there has been an upsurge of interest, and bottlings that are dominantly Graciano or, not uncommonly, monovarietal have been appearing. Indeed, it is nowadays generally considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class red-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page).

The vines thrive in warm, arid climates; there is now also some interest in the grape in the Lodi area of California, which seems well suited to it. It is also grown in Australia.

In Rioja, whence most Graciano still, red wines are classified into one of four categories. In rising order of supposed quality, those are: Rioja, young wines; crianza, wines aged at least two years, with at least one of those on oak; Rioja Reserva, aged at least three years, with at least one of those on oak; and Rioja Gran Reserva, aged at least two years on oak and at least three more in bottle. If that sounds like a lot, some bodegas (wineries) in times past would age their wines for 15 or even 20 years before releasing them. (Wikipedia cites "the Marqués de Murrieta which released its 1942 vintage gran reserva in 1983 after 41 years of aging.")

Factoid: some say the grape's name derives from the word gracia, meaning "joy" or "grace" (hence gracias); others say that because it is so difficult to grow well, growers offered cuttings habitually replied "No, gracias!"

Some Descriptions of Graciano Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "The wine produced is characterized by its deep red color, strong aroma and ability to age well. Graciano thrives in warm, arid climates."

  • Brew Hops & Wine Stops

    "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. "

  • WineGeeks

    "[Graciano] produces wines of considerable weight, pigmentation, perfume and quality."

  • Vinodiversity

    "Straight Graciano wines tend to be big, soft and aromatic, sometimes a little too aromatic, but when done well they are very impressive rich wines.

  • Chrysalis Wine

    "Graciano wines are capable of rich color, a lovely fragrant BOUQUET, a hint of spice in the flavor, and long AGING. The high ACIDITY of the Graciano grape makes it a good candidate for blending with low-acid varieties like TEMPRANILLO."

  • Wine Searcher

    "The flavors of varietal Graciano wine are dark and concentrated, often showing licorice scents with a spicy element. It has high acid and medium tannins, making it an excellent complement to Tempranillo, its old partner. In practical terms it is often compared to Bordeaux’s Petit Verdot, in that Graciano is full of personality yet typically appears in wines only in single-figure percentages."

  • Your Wine IQ

    "Graciano is a deep red grape of Spanish origin, mostly grown in the region of Rioja. As a wine, it is aromatic and ages well, but the grape requires a warm, dry climate to thrive."

  • Quixote Wines

    " This type of grape produces deep red wines with high acidity, which when young tend to be very tannic, harsh and rough, but experiencing a great aging development during the wood and bottle phase. Therefore, it is very common to find it in “coupages” with a great variety of Tempranillo wines for wines with an aging process."

  • Riverland Alternative Wine Group

    "Deep dark purple to red, this is a graceful aromatic wine of mulberry, cherry and spice. The palate is fruit rich with a great length of acid and natural fruit sweetness."

  • Decanter

    "'This grape is like Marmite', says Zubia; 'you either love it or hate it.' Good varietal examples show lovely colour, alcohol and acidity, a minty, spicy nose, and a minerality on the palate, balanced by inky dark fruits."

Some Gracianos to Try

(About this list.)

Monovarietal Graciano is now easier to find than was the case not so long ago. Moreover, there are some terrific bargains to be had. A few of these are very widely available; the rest, less so, but still not really "rare".

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Rio Madre Graciano Rioja, $8 - $16.

    Some quotations and facts:

    [It] begins with a really pleasant aroma of blackberry, licorice, cola and a hint of smoke. The aroma is so good you really can't wait to take your first sip (and then your second and third and...) Tasting this lush, delicious wine reminds me a bit of a big, bold Zinfandel. It features similar flavors as the bouquet with tons of rich fruit and some added wild cherry jolly rancher. A really nice spicy streak builds all the way through the long finish which also highlights some lingering smoky notes. Great Graciano, this is good stuff!

    Opaque violet color with spicy ripe mixed berry, cola, licorice, and a bit of floral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied and fresh with blackberry, pomegranate, cherry, spice, and mineral flavors. Medium long finish. Rating: A- (90pts): This wine is a way over delivers in terms of quality for the prices. The best thing I can say about it, is that I will buy more! Check it out!

    ♣ Wine Advocate (October 2012), 91 points

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (September 2012), 90 points

    It exhibits slightly riper blackberry fruit intermixed with notions of licorice, wood smoke, camphor and a vivid floral display.

    I just love it when I open a bottle and the aromas waft out like a wine genie slithering out to grant your wish. Swirl this bad boy around as scents of ripe blackberry, cherry and pepper notes smack you like a Colonel’s white glove challenging you to a duel. . . This wine is superlative: plush, it’s got bite, it’s got fruit, dreamy nose – it’s the whole damned package.

    One of my favorite value reds right now is the Rio Madre Graciano Rioja 2011 (Grade=Outstanding). . . Medium-bodied with loads of red fruits and white spices, it is almost tailor-made for this time of year, revealing hints of peppermint beneath its juicy veneer of red currant paste, roasted red cherries and touches of mulberry pie. Clocking in under $10, this wine is a steal.

    The color is a medium, grapey ruby with some purple. The light to medium nose reveals cherry, berries, and something else! In the mouth the youthful fruit stands on the tongue at first. There is a backbone of acidity to this moderate bodied wine. The fine+ grapey tannins mix with tart, red fruit in the middle. It is a little rough in the finish followed by a slightly earthy, long aftertaste. Quite drinkable with half an hour of air and a solid value. ***

    Inky ruby. Spice-accented aromas and flavors of black and blue fruits and cola, with notes of dark chocolate and licorice. Concentrated and powerful on the palate, with a spicy note building with air. Intense licorice, blackcurrant and bitter cherry notes linger on the spicy, youthfully tannic finish. Outstanding value here; there are very few all-graciano Riojas made, and they all cost a lot more than this one.

    Blackberry, black currant, and marzipan introduce the aroma with cinnamon raisin bread, hints of prune, dried herbs, and pipe tobacco showing in the background. Rich, dark, and bold, this wine is intensely inky and concentrated. Violets and very dark chocolate show at first on the palate with black stone, dried flower petals, and prunes appearing toward the finish. This is a serious, deep and silky wine with an almost grilled, bitter edge that gives some real personality. If you like… dark, inky wines like Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Petit Verdot this is a very impressive, excellent value (5/5).

    [D]eep, saturated purple color; intense aromatics; savory dark fruit flavors; and brooding earthiness. It comes across as plush but not "sappy" or "jammy", as the bright acidity keeps the ripe fruit in perfect balance. This harmonious Spanish red is a terrific value at $10 the bottle.

  • Bodegas Ondarre Graciano, $8 - $20.

    Some quotations and facts:

    The subject wine is a big bruiser ([a friend] recommended that I decant it for aeration "for at least 2 hours", so I decanted it for 3½). Lush, plush, very full-bodied, very rich, concentrated and extracted, extremely ripe. Very mouth-filling, very dense, viscous, deeply fruited showing off flavors of a mixed compote of blackberry, blueberry and black cherry with notes of kirsch, café Americain, anise, slight balsamico, dark flowers and good doses of oak-related (obviously a lot of new oak used) vanilla, toffee and cinnamon. There's a touch of discreet, underlying minerality as well. Tannins are soft and rounded. Lots of power, but doesn't shout it out. Notable freshness despite its density, formidable concentration and extraction. Notable complexity too. My over-all impressions were of richness, concentration and smoothness. Acidity is a bit low for my taste, but I imagine this will be very pleasing to those who enjoy the big, rich, oaky Napa-style. . . This received 5 stars from Decanter (for whatever that's worth).

    Lovely, silky, full of plum fruit, licorice and this complexity that shows up as the taste flows from mid to back palate. Big wine yet very old world. Didn't let up over the 1-2 hours it was open, was even better through the vinturi and still has tannins kicking in. Pretty impressive. Could be a short while from its peak [2004 vintage in 2010]. 93

    [I]it's very good indeed. It has a heady, deep brambly aroma and is ripe, fresh and very modern in the mouth, with loads of sweet oak on the finish. Delicious.

  • Viña Zorzal Graciano, $10 - $15. (Not technically a Rioja—15 minutes' drive outside the zone border.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Wonderfully heady with powerful mulberry scents and juicy fruit. Great impact! Then vibrant and lively. Real lift. Precise and surely no oak but pure fruit. Amazing length. 16.5

    Fabulous big, juicy intensity of immediate red berry fruits make this hugely attractive for an everyday wine. It’s uncomplicated with all its focus being on fresh fruits; it's well balanced.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (September 2012), 89 Points

    Vivid ruby. Bright, spice-accented aromas of cherry and redcurrant, with a deeper licorice note building with air. Youthfully taut red fruit flavors show good depth and pick up spiciness with air. Dusty tannins add grip and shape to the finish, which features notes of bitter cherry and cracked pepper.

    This dark ruby colored Spanish wine opens with a very fragrant clove and rad raspberry bouquet. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, slightly acidic and quite juicy. The flavor profile is an oak infused ripe plum with hints of black pepper and clove. The finish is dry and its moderate tannins stick around for a little while. 88

    [O]ne of those rare wine finds that immediately excites with its explosive fruit, sheer drinkability and refinement.

    Brilliant, fruity red, perfect for everyday drinking yet with enough character to keep you interested.

    The wine is straight forward, rustic, deep and simple. We had two bottles of this over a few nights and this really shone after a night in the fridge. So next time I would recommend a bit of air and time for the wine to open up. . . I'm not sure I'd go out of my way to track down another one, but this bottle was certainly enjoyable enough. If I had kept one of the two bottles, I would be putting it down for a couple more years to let the tannins do their work.

    [F]ully ripe with plenty of silky blackcurrant fruit, but with enough acidity and tannin to keep it fresh and balanced.

    Beautifully smooth, supple and tight dark cherry fruit with a sappy green edge. Medium bodied. Sweet, pure and elegant with nice spiciness and attractive greenness. Seems simple and fruity at first but there's more to it. Very stylish. 91/100

  • Vinos Sin-Ley GRA2 Rioja Traza Graciano, $10 - $17. (VSL no longer make a GRA1, so the "GRA2" is redundant, though still often seen.)
         ($13.24 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Opaque purple. Deeply concentrated blackberry and kirsch aromas display impressive focus. A juicy midweight with sweet dark fruit flavors, supple tannins and solid mineral spine. Dark berry flavors peek out on the youthfully firm finish. Very impressive and one to check in on later.

    In the glass, the wine was inky black almost all the way out to the rim with very intense saturation. The nose was a little reserved with black fruit flavors like blackberry preserves, black plums and blackcurrant. On the palate, the wine was medium/full bodied with high acid and plush tannins. There were flavors of dark chocolate, espresso, smoke, charcoal, blackberries, blackcurrants and black cherries. This is a dense, intensely packed wine full of dark fruits and earthy flavors that is nicely balanced by the high acid content.

    ♣ Wine Advocate ((February, 2008), 90

    This effort was raised in stainless steel. Opaque purple-colored, it has a classy nose of mineral, pencil lead, tar, pepper, blueberry, and blackberry. Pure, sweet, and ripe, this tasty wine has considerable breadth on the palate as well as excellent depth and concentration. . . It is an outstanding value.

    Traza is no shy wine, big with tons of dark fruit on the nose and palate.

    Berry flavours, spices which persist on the finish, good adequate body. Unoaked. QPR: 90.

  • Vina Ijalba Rioja Graciano, $15 - $20. (Do not confuse this with other Ijalba reds.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    At first, this wine strikes you with its deep red-lilac-garnet color, somewhat unusual purple with timid brick reflects on the rim. On the nose, intense aromas of ripe figs and dark wild berries mingled with underbrush, slightly mushroomy, earthy notes (in a good intriguing way). The palate is fairly intense too and Terroir oriented. Rich and well balanced with great acidity and somewhat raw textured, the wine is fruity, earthy, medium to full-bodied, may be esoteric for some yet well crafted, soft and inviting with present yet nicely integrated chewy tannins. Definitely a food friendly wine, ready to drink now after a bit of aeration yet showing some good ageing potential.

    Very few producers bother to make a wine from [Graciano] alone but when it is given its chance in the limelight it makes an arresting and memorable wine, challenging rather than comforting, as this example shows. There’s a lovely 'edge' and some smoky, herbaceous fruit, supported by taut tannins. If you are bored with the middle of the road, go with this.

    An organic red from one of the most exciting producers in the region, made entirely (and unusually) from Graciano. This is meaty, peppery and concentrated, with a backdrop of firm tannins.

    Medium concentration with a garnet color and some staining to the tears. Aromatically speaking, the wine showed why it is considered a blending grape. There was not a lot of complexity to the dark fruits and the subtle earth. I found the wine to be balanced but it never really turned the corner for me personally. I remember remarking that its a good burger wine, it will hold up to the flavors without going over the top.

    Medium ruby color; charcoal, tart berry, herb nose; tight berry, currant palate; medium-plus finish 87+ points (1 year in French oak).

    The garnet red color of the 100% Graciano is appealing to the eyes, while the deep, rich plum and black cherry notes make my nose very happy. This medium bodied bottle has great complexity, especially at its price point of $17. It also shows a nuance of spice with subtle tannin and just a hint of dryness on the finish. This bottle is definitely one of the best quality bargain wines I've had in a very long time. I’ve long enjoyed a good bottle from Rioja, and thankfully this is yet another one to add to my buy again list. 4 out of 5.

    Viña Ijalba has a pretty label but the juice inside is as gutsy as a winter’s night calls for. It is full-bodied, shows tons of dense dark fruit, backed by silky tannins.

  • Idilico Graciano, c. $19. (From Washington State; new, few retailers yet—check maker's site for more.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Idilico is like a bull in a china shop. Wrecking the place with a nose of deep dark fruit, black cherry, currant, earthy tobacco and light brambly menthol spices. The palate is equally dark and seductive with black cherry, coffee and smoky clove spices that linger on to a cedar tinged spicy finish. . . Idilico continues the rampage with a nose of earthy currants, smoky sandalwood and brambly spices. The palate shows black cherry, coffee bean, clove and menthol spices. The finish tops things off with tart cocoa and coffee bean spices. . . Idilico certainly has substance. The nose is full of dark fruit, cocoa, light floral notes and some menthol spices. The palate is equally pumped up with black cherry, coffee and toffee spices leading to a complex finish of cedar, coffee bean, tart cocoa and light earthy spices.

    The wine is softer than I imagined, perhaps this is due to younger vines. The aromatics are that of pure red fruit, in fact, I can’t recall a wine that smelled so absolutely of fresh strawberries. The tannin character is tame, hidden almost, most likely from the 15 months in French barrique. Acids are gentle and harmonious, while the finish is quite long and enjoyable. I could drink this wine any day of the week . . . Though, I imagine that as this wine ages along with the vines, the intensity will soar.

    A very aromatically distinct wine with black pepper, plum, orange peel, dark flowers, and high toned herbal notes. The palate has tart, citrusy, mouthwatering acid, firm tannins and bitters on the finish. A very intriguing and promising entry for this variety into Washington. 100% Graciano. Upland Vineyard. Aged 15 months in French oak. 14.0% alcohol. 4/5 = Good/Excellent.

    The nose was complex with herbal and floral black fruit with a bitters-like complexity. There was a lot of good flavor in the mouth which became drier as floral black fruit clung to the mouth. There was tart acidity on the lips and tangy fruit with ripe,drying tannins giving substance to the wine. ***

  • Baron de Ley Varietales Graciano Rioja, $17 - $24. (Don't confuse this winery with Vinos San Ley.)
         ($21.84 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Deep purple in color, the wine has intense bright aromas of blackcurrants, cassis, licorice, pomegranate and vanilla, as well as some violet, clove and earthy tones. Medium bodied on the palate, it is quite tart with high acidity, and flavors of red cherries, blackcurrants, tobacco and a bit of oak. Earthy finish with long length and a good tannic grip. Conclusion: This is quite complex and a very interesting wine with good acidity, that can help keep the wine and will probably evolve for quite some time. Refreshing fruit flavors are well integrated with tannins, alcohol and acidity, making it a balanced, layered and very good quality wine. Great steal!

    Lovely rich dark look about it in the glass, aromas of subtle dark fruits, candle wax and vanilla. Very smooth mouth feel, black cherry and strawberries. Fresh with noticeable tannins and good acidity. Vanilla gives it a hint of sweetness. Great with or without food. On the second day is when this wine shows it's colours, softer with a delightful candy like flavour. This needs to be decanted for a while before it really turns into a very good wine. If you haven't tried Graciano before you will be pleasantly surprised. Highly recommended.

    [Reminds] us that autumnal reds don't have to be heavy. Elegant and aromatic with a violet nose, blackberry and raspberry flavours and notes of black cherry and vanilla, this smooth, medium-bodied Rioja is the perfect accompaniment to a ricotta and rocket vegetable tagliatelle.

    [R]ich, dark cherry and mulberry fruit characters; trenchant blade of acidity.

    Lovely nose of fresh, bright red fruits with a subtle, complex warm herby character. The palate is bright and fresh with nice tannic grip and good acidity, showing red fruits with a bit of oak in the background. Nicely complex and expressive. 90/100

  • Bokisch Vineyards & Winery Lodi (California) Graciano, $16 - $20. (Bokisch's "Quinta Cruz" is a different animal.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    [P]lump and plummy flavors; a body that is full in feel, without being heavy; and varying degrees of compelling sensations like star fruit and anise, spicy green peppers, and elusively sweet/earthy kitchen seasonings.

    Medium garnet in color, this wine has a lovely, somewhat exotic nose of mulberry and black cherry aromas with hints of spice. In the mouth it is lush and juicy, with fantastic acidity and forward fruit flavors of black raspberry, plum, and mulberry. The wine has barest hint of tannins that surface as the wine heads towards a very nice finish which brings out a lightly-green woodiness that adds a pleasant note of complexity to the wine . . . and a real pleasure because of it.

    [T]his vintage continued to provide the dark purple color, dark fruit aromas and the flavors of blackberry jam, black cherry, anise and even a touch of cocoa.

    American oak is quite pronounced and many people like this style of wine - rich and extracted. Dark berry flavors, fig jam and a dose of espresso (single not double). Marcus Bokisch managed to retain enough acid, which is an attribute of the variety, to make this wine still food-friendly. However one has to choose with care what to pair with this strongly flavored candidate.

    A rich earthy smell first out of the bottle changes slowly to more fruit and spice after an hour or so in the glass. Red cherries and wild strawberries, asian spices and a touch of vanilla all overlay faint earth and mild mushrooms. Curiously, red fruit on the nose turns to darker fruit on the palate, blackberries and blackcurrants along with unsweetened cranberries. The darker fruit fades on the mid-palate as a bit of underlying earth joins the tart, even slightly bitter, cranberries. It all leads to a mid-length richly tannic finish.

    The nose . . . on this wine really opened up over the course of the evening. At first I found sour cherry, tomato vine, earth, spice, licorice, red currants, and some funky mint. After an hour or so the nose opened up with fabulous dusty chocolate and brown sugar. In the mouth I got flavors of sour cherry, leather, blacker fruit than on the nose, earth, mostly black cherry, and other dark tart fresh fruit.

    This wine has great color, complex flavors of black berries, good acid and well integrated tannins.

For a Splurge

That's a bit of a problem, because of the wholly or primarily Graciano bottlings available, there really are no "splurge-level" pricings: the "everyday"-priced Gracianos are pretty near the peak of what's available, and—as you can see above—pretty well respected. So, to splurge, why not just buy a case of your favorite?

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