The hundreds of vineyards that populate the hills along the headlands of the Ebro river plays host to perhaps the greatest traditional quartet of grapes in the world: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuela (the local name for the ubiquitous Carignan) and tonight’s grape-in-the-spotlight, Graciano.
This variety is very traditional to this region, and for me an essential part of the Rioja blend, to which it brings perfume and and dark ballast. That said, it presents several major problems to growers, and it yields poorly under any circumstances, so since it’s inclusion in the Rioja blend is not mandated, many producers ripped up what little they had to plant more Tempranillo.
But there’s a happy ending for Graciano. Perhaps in some part as a compensation for excluding Graciano from the mandatory grapes in Rioja, the govering board allowed Graciano to be produced solo and unblended, under its own name along with the Rioja name (other grapes have the same deal too); this has allowed those who have the best sites to grow Graciano, and the will to do it, can distinguish themselves in a big region with lots of big competitors…
Organ pedal-deep wines like this one call for equally bold and corpulent food which tonight was a pisto manchego (a long, slow stew-down of nothing more than green pepper, onion, and tomato in olive oil, served warm) as an appetizer, and then multi-herb and spice lamb patties with a simple side dish of white beans.
Rio Madre (Ilurce) Rioja Graciano 2010
Glass-staining, ultra-deep blackish crimson/purple color. Pungent and intense nose of blackberry and blueberry fruit, followed by notes of damp earth, cocoa, roasted nuts and coal smoke. The wine enters the palate with a deep, powerful, velvety texture that becomes chewy with prominent tannins and a “sour” acidity that springs flavors of plum butter, black raspberry, vanilla bean, rose water, and black tea. Finishes with a deep and warm blackcurrant finish.