A few years ago I was talking to Liz Bokisch who with her Catalan/German husband Markus runs the Bokisch winery in Lodi, California. In the 1990s, they pioneered plantings of Spanish/Portuguese grape varieties in the region. They make a single-varietal Graciano, which is originally from Rioja, and I asked her about the variety. She practically swooned as she eugolized about what she called her favorite variety, but then sighed, “But it’s so, so difficult to work with.”
And that’s why Graciano by the late 1970s in its native Rioja was almost extinct. It was only because Spain in general returned to a focus on quality in the 1980s onwards that grape varieties such as Graciano were preserved.
It’s a low-yielding variety, which growers obviously hate. It’s also prone to rot and downy mildew which for even those producers/growers committed to quality makes life hard work.
But the wines are amazing. Viña Pomal make a wonderful if expensive Graciano from Rioja, while Bokisch’s in California is more affordable but still delicious.
Because of its low yields, it’s more often used in a blend: blackpoolmatt’s wine club carries “La Buena Vid” from Rioja by Mas Que Vinos, which is 90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano. The variety adds acidity and a perfumed, floral character.
Graciano is also planted in Sardinia, where there’s much confusion in the origin and name of the variety. It’s usually called Bovale Sardo which is unhelpful because in Sardinia Carignan is sometimes called Bovale Grande. Another name is Cagnulari, which few people other than members of blackpoolmatt’s wine club are going to recognize.
Despite the name confusion, under its heteronyms Graciano is perhaps more important in Sardinia than Spain. As with Garnacha (Cannonau in Sardinia) and Carignan/Cariñena, the variety was most likely brought to the island when it was under Catalan and then Spanish rule from the 1400s onwards.
A new addition to the club is “Arsenale” by Vigne Rafa, which is 100% Graciano, labeled as Cagnulari. The producer is based near the beautiful seaside town of Alghero in north-west Sardinia. Catalan culture, food, architecture, and language are still apparent in this small pocket of the island. At the same time, there’s a rugged rusticity to Sardinia’s terrain that’s uniquely reflected in the wines—though with more of a refined elegance than is found in some Cannonau made on the island.
The history of a long-planted but relatively obscure variety takes some untangling, but luckily there are producers like Vigne Rada who are dedicated enough to preserve that history, work with a difficult to grow variety, and let us taste all of that in a glass.