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Whenever I go to The Sampler, the innovating wine store with 80 well-preserved wines on taste, I discover at least one really interesting wine that is completely new to me. I suppose that is the point of its sampling premise.
As I reported in my tasting notes on a recent visit to The Sampler, my big find earlier this month (apart from the fact that Greece can trounce Pessac-Léognan in the Semillon/Sauvignon stakes and that DRC Grands Échezeaux 1971 can still be magical) was this varietal Graciano from the far south of Navarra in northern Spain.
As the younger generation of producers of Viña Zorzal Graciano 2007 Navarra, the large bodega on the border of Navarra and Rioja Vinicola Corellana, observed ruefully to UK importer Ben Henshaw of Indigo Wine, if only their father had set up shop 15 minutes' drive further south, they could have sold all their wines as Rioja and had a rather easier time of things than they do at the moment, saddled with the rather obscure region of origin Correlana.
Graciano is one of the rarer grape specialities of the vast Rioja region. Purple pagers can read this profile of Graciano in their online Oxford Companion to Wine. It is the same as Portugal's Tinta Miuda and the Languedoc's (almost extinct) Morrastel, and I always find a really succulent sort of mulberry fruit in it. Since the Spaniards have at last started to become more interested in their indigenous varieties, it has become a little easier to find Graciano. Viña Ijalba in Rioja have been making a jazzily labelled varietal version of it for many years.
But this particular example seems just the job to me for demonstrating Graciano's very special qualities of plump fruitiness and a certain softness with no lack of character. (The only reason it fell from favour was because yields are relatively low.) I see from the label that it won a gold medal in the International Wine Challenge and am delighted that its obvious qualities have been recognised.
Here are the technical notes from this bodega, founded in 1989 and until now better known for making inexpensive wines from the likes of Garnacha, Tempranillo, Cabernet, and Merlot, for sale notably in Spain and Germany.
In this area there tends to be a sunny, dry winter followed by a rainy spring. The summers are dry and a bit windy, with temperatures much cooler at night. These ideal conditions, which allow for the slow ripening of the Graciano grape variety, perfectly maintain their characteristic acidity, intensifying their aromatic qualities and resulting in ripe tannins.
The vineyard has 30+ year-old vines and is located in the Ombatillo district in Corella. The grapes are hand-picked. Once sorted, they undergo light maceration at 8 deg C in the pre-fermentation stage to enhance aromatic potential. Controlled temperature (22-24 deg C) alcoholic fermentation follows in 15,000-litre stainless-steel vats before an eight-day maceration on the skins with light stirring. 25% of the malolactic fermentation takes place in French tight-grain oak barrels with the remainder in stainless steel. Gently clarified and lightly filtered.
The winemaker's notes mention 'bitter and green' notes as being characteristic of Graciano, but I must say I have not found these in the Gracianos I have so far enjoyed. This seems to be one of those rather rare red wine varieties that produces wines you can drink with or without food. Here is my tasting note:
Vinacola Corellana, Viña Zorzal Graciano 2007 Navarra 16.5 Drink 2009-12
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. Nice label too. GV
£8.99 The Sampler
The wine is also available, at £6.75, from The Wine Society and also, at prices up to £9.95, from Bottle Apostle, Cambridge Wine, Great Northern Wine, Harvey Nichols, Highbury Vintners and Roberson as well as www.everywine.co.uk in the UK. Vinicola Corellana also sell in Spain, Switzland, Belgium, Australia, but not, unfortunately, the US. Wine-searcher.com currently identifies stockists in both Belgium and Switzerland.Find this wine