In my mind, Rioja is to Spain as Chianti is to Italy. If you asked most people to quickly name one wine from Spain and one from Italy, I would bet that a large majority would instantly name those iconic regions, and for good reason. Both areas have a well established wine making history and are not very available in almost every worldwide shop that sells wine, but good bottles can be had for reasonable prices as well. They both also feature what might be considered each country’s “signature grape:” Tempranillo in Spain and Sangiovese in Italy.
Of course, the analogy isn’t perfect. Chianti has much stricter regulations regarding what grapes in what proportions can go into its wines and still be eligible for the Chianti classification (there is also no white Chianti while Rioja allows for white wine production). There are regulations in Rioja also, but only for the allowed grape varieties, not the proportions (and even then I believe that wineries can apply for special permission to include grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon). What this means is that it is possible to end up with a 100% varietal bottling from any of the approved red wine grapes within Rioja: Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache in France), Mazuelo and Graciano. Those first two grapes are familiar enough, and Mazeulo is the local term for Carignan, a grape grown in many regions all over the world, which brings us to Graciano.
Graciano is a late budding grape variety with natural low yields and ripens much later than Tempranillo. It is very rare to see it bottled as a 100% varietal. It is originary from Rioja and Navarra. In Rioja, there are 395 ha which constitutes 0.7% of the vineyard planted in Rioja.
Although a minor player in Rioja blends, Graciano is used to provide colour and aroma to blended Rioja red wines. Graciano was once very widely grown in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of France, where it was known as Monastel ( which can lead to confusion since it is a spanish synonym for Mourvedre).
Perhaps why this grape is not planted more widely, it is because it is so so economically viable. Graciano is famous for low-yielding and susceptible to downy mildew, which means it needs more attention in the vineyards. It’s a very sound economic decision with on a large-scale. If two vines take up the same amount of space in the vineyard but one produces considerably more fruit and doesn’t require as much maintenance, then why would you bother with the one you have to spend more money maintaining and get fewer bottles of wine from?
Fortunately, the fine wine boom of the past twenty years has encouraged more producers to devote more time and resources to cultivating Graciano. Many producers are letting Graciano be the sole star of their wines, producing 100% varietal Graciano wines. Recently, I was able to review the Graciano from Ijalba.
Ijalba is one of the most important producers in Rioja. They are one of the few producers that I know that specialize in the bottling of 100% Graciano varietal. They have also have been pioneers in the standard for environmental awareness in and around Rioja, from its organic production to its extensive re-cycling and philosophy for the winery. Ijalba has also been actively engaged in the resurrection of minor grape varieties indigenous to Rioja in conjuction with other organisms such as the University of Rioja and C.I.D.A. Rioja.
Ijalba’s entire vineyards are planted on abandoned opencast mines, which have been restored from an environmental point of view, having received several national and European prizes for the restoration undergone. As a consequence of the location of the vineyard, the soils are poor and limy, with little depth. The vineyards are planted on the sites of these former quarries, which have poor rocky soils. In consequence, the vine’s roots have to grow very deep to find water and nourishment.
Viña Ijalba owns around 70 Hectares (175 acres) of vineyards which are in a number of parcels surrounding Logroño, in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, and Valle del Najerilla. These vineyards supply 100 % of the production of the bodega. The grapes planted have been matched according to the soil type and micro-climate of each vineyard site.
Ijalba Graciano 2012. Code SAQ : 10360261. $21.55
Dark purple colour. Complex aromas of red currants with iron and earthy nuances such as tamari soya, wasabi, dry blood oranges and hummus. Full body, with a good acidity. Structured and long in the palate with retronasal flavors reminding me of black currants and violets. Chewy fruit profile with beefy but mouth-watering tannins. Long aftertaste that remind of leather and other barnyard nuances. Drinking beautifully know but can be aged for 10 years. 95\100
Ijalba is represented in Quebec by Charton Hobbs. The sample reviewed was given by Hobbs for review.