Wine grapes: Graciano

Graciano (grah sih-ahn-oh) is primarily a Spanish variety. Although it is not one of the major varieties used in bulk wines, there are a few thousand hectares of Graciano in the Ebro Valley where, along with Carignan and Tempranillo, it is an important component in the appellation wines of Rioja and Navarra. In France the variety is called Morrastel and is recommended in the south, but little remains, possibly because of its relatively low yield. The area of Graciano in Australia is very small. The variety should not be confused with the so-called Morrastel of South Australia, which is really Mataro, nor with the Mourastel imported from California, which is Carignan. In Algeria, large areas of Mataro were mistakenly called Morrastel. Xeres imported from California proved to be Graciano.

Graciano produces a red wine that is strongly coloured and high in acid and tannin, and ages well. The wines are full-bodied, of high quality and with a delicate bouquet.

Source: Vines for Wines. A Wine Lover’s Guide to the Top Wine Grape Varieties. By George Kerridge and Angela Gackle


Richard Jennings: “Delicious Wine and Food Travel? Visit Rioja”

By Richard Jennings – @rjonwine on twitter


I thoroughly enjoyed my trip this past summer to one of Spain’s oldest and most renowned wine regions, Rioja. The scenery in this vast river valley in northeastern Spain is entrancing, ringed by picturesque mountain ranges and filled with vineyards and medieval hilltop towns. The locally grown food stuffs are super fresh and flavorful. The wines are delicious and full of history and interest. And the people could not be more gracious. I am dying to go back, and I encourage fellow lovers of food and wine to consider prioritizing Rioja as a delicious and delightful vacation destination.

To start with the food, Rioja’s ideal growing conditions produce a literal cornucopia of very tasty, fresh produce and meats. I had peaches, pears, asparagus, mushrooms and melons there that I’m still dreaming about. Camerano cheese is a smooth, rich product that has been made from goats milk in the region for over 1,000 years. Delicious meats, like locally raised chicken, pork and lamb, as well as freshly made chorizo and melt-in-your-mouth jamon iberico are plentiful and reasonably priced.

An ideal way to sample some of the fresh food stuffs is to visit the tapas bars. Two of the most renowned streets for tapas in the region are Calle Laurel in the big, capital city of Logroño, and on and around Calle Santo Tomás in the small, historic town of Haro.

I recommend taking a casual stroll down these streets in the refreshing night air and stopping in the first one that strikes your fancy. Ask what their specialty is–maybe salt cod in a black olive tapenade, roast suckling pig, grilled white asparagus with Camerano cheese, or a “tortilla,” which in Spain is a potato omelet.

Tapas in Logroño
The ideal drink with tapas is a glass of red Rioja, preferably a Crianza — which is a younger, medium-bodied wine with some oak aging — from one of the region’s many great producers. Most tapas bars there have a dozen or more to chose from. Just order one or two small plates to eat. When you’re done with that first appetizer or two, stroll on down to the next tapas bar and order their specialty. Continue on until you’re quite full and you will have tasted a wide array of freshly made delicacies and made your mouth and stomach very happy.

Al fresco dining in Haro
There are also plenty of fine dining establishments. For a good list, I recommend the two travel guides — one to Logroño and the other for Haro — at, by Tom Perry. Tom is an American who has lived in Rioja and worked in the wine industry there for decades. Other great suggestions on where to stay, taste and dine can be found in the Discover Rioja section of the Rioja Wine Board’s site.

As far as wineries go, you have several hundred to choose from. Almost all of them require that you schedule your tour and tasting in advance — hardly any have regular hours when they’re open without a reservation. But it’s easy to make a reservation through many wineries’ websites. For suggested itineraries, including groups of wineries located near each other, I again recommend Tom Perry’s online guides and

One of the most convenient and historical places to start is with some of the great, traditional bodegas located near Haro. Many of these were built after Haro’s train station was finished in 1880. There you can find R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, La Rioja Alta, Bodegas Bilbaínas and Muga, among others.

Haro is also where a major festival, the Battle of Wine, takes place on June 29 each year. Our group of American wine bloggers participated this year and our white, disposable clothing got completely soaked with red wine, which is just how it’s supposed to be. Tourists come from all over the country and throughout Europe to join in this happy, thoroughly messy event, which is followed by impromptu cookouts down the hill from the site of the morning melee. There are also big gatherings the night before and after in the main square in Haro.

RJ and fellow survivors of the Battle of Wine
Other great bodegas that welcome visitors, with advance reservations, include those I’ve written about at length in other posts here: Franco-Espanolas, Hermanos Peciña, Miguel Merino, San Vicente and Sierra Cantabria.

There are also wineries with stunning architecture, like Frank Gehry’s “City of Wine,” housing the Marques de Riscal hotel next to the 18th century bodega, and the striking, undulating Bodegas Ysios, designed by Santiago Calatrava, whose arches and curves echo those of the mountain range behind it.

Bodegas Ysios
Another must-see destination in Rioja for all wine lovers is the massive wine museum outside the medieval walled town of Briones in Rioja Alta. It’s called the Dinastía Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine, and it’s located right next to the Dinastía Vivanco winery, one of the few in Rioja that’s open regular hours for tours and tasting.

The museum is billed as the world’s biggest wine museum, and I have no reason to doubt this claim. It is by far the greatest and most extensive I have yet visited, the result of 40 years of collecting by the Vivanco Family. The museum has three beautifully designed floors including not only ancient winemaking artifacts and treasures, but also richly produced videos explaining aspects of the wine production process, and a gallery of artworks from all ages celebrating the fruits of the vine. I was particularly fascinated by displays containing samples of glass wine bottles as they developed, gradually, into their current forms, starting with ancient Roman examples. The museum also features a mindboggling collection of over 5,000 imaginative (and sometimes pornographic) corkscrews, dating back to the late 1700s.

View of the medieval walled town of Briones from the grounds of Dinastía Vivanco
The winery here is one of Rioja’s most modern and lavish, and well worth a tour. For notes on Dinastía Vivanco’s wines, which are quite good, in a concentrated, modern style, see the complete report on my blog in:

If you’ve visited Rioja, I urge you to share a comment or two about it here. I know I’ll be back soon. Maybe I’ll meet you there.

Red Wine Grapes

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most well-known member of the Carmenet family of grape cultivars. Its renown comes from its involvement in most Bordeaux wines (and equivalents). Other members of the family include Merlot and Malbec. Their inclusion in Bordeaux blends moderates the tannin content donated primarily by Cabernet Sauvignon. The tendency of Merlot to mature more quickly has made it a popular substitute for Cabernet Sauvignon. Under optimal conditions, Cabernet Sauvignon yields a fragrant wine possessing a black-currant aroma. Under less favorable conditions, it generates a predominant bell-pepper aroma. Cabernet Sauvignon probably is the offspring of an accidental crossing between grapes related to, if not identical with, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon blanc.

Gamay noir is the primary, white-juiced, Gamay cultivar. Its reputation has risen in association with the popularity of Beaujolais wines. Crushed and fermented by standard procedures, Gamay produces a light red wine with few distinctive characteristics. However, when processed by carbonic maceration, it yields a distinctively fruity wine. Most of these features come from the grape-berry fermentation phase of carbonic maceration.

Nebbiolo is generally acknowledged as producing the most highly regarded red wine in northwestern Italy. With traditional vinification, it produces a wine high in acid and tannin content that requires years to mellow. The color has a tendency to oxidize rapidly. Common aroma descriptors include tar, violets, and truffles.

Pinot noir is the most famous Noirien grape variety. It is particularly environmentally sensitive, producing its typical fragrance (beets, peppermint, or cherries) only occasionally. The cultivar exists as a varied collection of distinctive clones. Usually, the more prostrate, lower-yielding clones produce the more flavorful wines. The upright, higher-yielding clones are more suited to the production of rose and sparkling wines. The South African cultivar, Pinotage, is a cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut.

Sangiovese is an ancient cultivar consisting of many distinctive clones, grown extensively throughout central Italy. It is most well known for the light- to full-bodied wines from Chianti, but also produces many fine red wines elsewhere in Italy. Under optimal conditions, it yields a wine possessing an aroma considered reminiscent of cherries, violets, and licorice. Sangiovese is also labeled under local synonyms, such as Brunello and Prugnolo, used in producing Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines, respectively.

Shiraz (Syrah in France) has become famous for yielding a deep red tannic wine with long aging potential in Australia. This has helped Syrah regain the prominence it once held in the Rhone Valley of France. Its wines are peppery with aspects reminiscent of violets, raspberries, and currants.

Tempranillo is probably the finest Spanish red-grape variety. Under favorable conditions, it yields a delicate, subtle wine that ages well. It is
the most important red cultivar in Rioja. Outside Spain, it is primarily grown in Argentina. It usually goes under the name Valdepenas in
California. Tempranillo generates an aroma distinguished by a complex, berry-jam fragrance, with nuances of citrus and incense.

Zinfandel is extensively grown in California. Its precise origin is unknown, but is clearly related to several Austrian, Croatian, and Hungarian varieties (Calo et al., 2008). This variety occurs under a variety of synonyms, such as Primitivo in Italy and Crljenak kastelanski in Croatia. Zinfandel is used to produce a wide range of wines, from ports to light blush wines. In rose versions, it shows a raspberry fragrance, whereas full-bodied red wines possess rich berry flavors.

Extract from: Wine Tasting. A Professional Handbook. By Ronald S. Jackson

How Wine Happens

Wine is, essentially, nothing but liquid, fermented fruit. The recipe for turning fruit into wine goes something like this:

1. Pick a large quantity of ripe grapes from grapevines.You could substitute raspberries or any other fruit, but 99.9 percent of all the wine in the world is made from grapes, because they make the best wines.
2. Put the grapes into a clean container that doesn’t leak.
3. Crush the grapes somehow to release their juice. Once upon a time, feet performed this step.
4. Wait.

In its most basic form, winemaking is that simple. After the grapes are crushed, yeasts (tiny one-celled organisms that exist naturally in the vineyard and, therefore, on the grapes) come into contact with the sugar in the grapes’ juice and gradually convert that sugar into alcohol. Yeasts also produce carbon dioxide, which evaporates into the air. When the yeasts are done working, your grape juice is wine. The sugar that was in the juice is no longer there — alcohol is present instead. (The riper and sweeter the grapes, the more alcohol the wine will have.) This process is called fermentation.

What could be more natural?
Fermentation is a totally natural process that doesn’t require man’s participation at all, except to put the grapes into a container and release the juice from the grapes. Fermentation occurs in fresh apple cider left too long in your refrigerator, without any help from you. In fact we read that milk, which contains a different sort of sugar than grapes do, develops a small amount of alcohol if left on the kitchen table all day long.

Speaking of milk, Louis Pasteur is the man credited with discovering fermentation in the nineteenth century. That’s discovering, not inventing. Some of those apples in the Garden of Eden probably fermented long before Pasteur came along. (Well, we don’t think it could have been much of an Eden without wine!) Modern wrinkles in winemaking Now if every winemaker actually made wine in as crude a manner as we just described, we’d be drinking some pretty rough stuff that would hardly inspire us to write a wine book.

But today’s winemakers have a bag of tricks as big as a sumo wrestler’s appetite. That’s one reason why no two wines ever taste exactly the same. The men and women who make wine can control the type of container they use for the fermentation process (stainless steel and oak are the two main materials), as well as the size of the container and the temperature of the juice during fermentation — and every one of these choices can make a big difference in the taste of the wine. After fermentation, they can choose how long to let the wine mature (a stage when the wine sort of gets its act together) and in what kind of container. Fermentation can last three days or three months, and the wine can then mature for a couple of weeks or a couple of years or anything in between. If you have trouble making decisions, don’t ever become a winemaker.

The main ingredient
Obviously, one of the biggest factors in making one wine different from the next is the nature of the raw material, the grape juice. Besides the fact that riper, sweeter grapes make a more alcoholic wine, different varieties of grapes (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot, for example) make different wines. Grapes are the main ingredient in wine, and everything the winemaker does, he does to the particular grape juice he has. Chapter 3 covers specific grapes and the kinds of wine they make.

Local flavor
Grapes, the raw material of wine, don’t grow in a void. Where they grow — the soil and climate of each wine region, as well as the traditions and goals of the people who grow the grapes and make the wine — affects the nature of the ripe grapes, and the taste of the wine made from those grapes. That’s why so much of the information there is to learn about wine revolves around the countries and the regions where wine is made.

Extract from: Wine for Dummies by Ed McCarthy (Certified Wine Educator) and Mary Ewing-Mulligan (Master of Wine)

Wine Grapes: Grenache


Grenache (gren-ahsh) is a very important variety in southern Europe. There are large plantings in Spain, where it is known as Garnacha. It is particularly famous in the the north-east of Spain, in the wine regions of Somontano, Penedés and Priorat (Catalonia). The wines of Grenache are very popular in Barcelona. In France the area of Grenache was around 87 000 ha in 1988, and has no doubt continued to increase at the expense of the high-yielding but poor-quality variety Aramon. It is an important variety on the island of Sardinia, where it is called Cannonao. Grenache is also grown in Sicily and the southern Italian mainland under the names of Granaccia and Alicante. Other than Europe and remnant plantings in Algeria, the only appreciable areas are in California and Australia. Australia has 2322 ha, most in South Australia and the rest fairly evenly divided between New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia.

The wines of Grenache are low in colour by Australian standards and age rapidly. Nevertheless, Grenache is regarded as a premium variety in France if it is not cropped too heavily. It is used alone only in rosé and fortified wines. For red table wines it is usually combined with varieties such as Carignan and Mataro, which provide acid and tannin, and Cinsaut which gives smoothness. Shiraz, Clairette, Mourvedre and other varieties may also be included to increase complexity.

Source: Vines for Wines. A Wine Lover’s Guide to the Top Wine Grape Varieties. By George Kerridge and Angela Gackle

Recipes with Wine: Burgundy Beef Stew

Now, this is a recipe to cook with Burgundy wine. But please, don’t use a expensive one…

Burgundy Beef Stew: 

One-pot meals offer much more than just easy cleanup. This easy, hearty beef stew recipe is fancied up with a splash of Burgundy wine. If it’s stick-to-your-ribs satisfaction you want along with company-special taste, you’ve found it!

Serves 5
BurgundyBeefStew1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1-1/2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 (14-ounce) can ready-to-serve beef broth
1/2 cup Burgundy or other dry red wine
3 garlic cloves, minced. And 2 cups baby carrots
1 cup frozen whole pearl onions
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water. And 1 (8-ounce) package frozen sugar snap peas
1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat; brown beef in batches. Pour off drippings then return all cooked beef to pot and season with thyme, salt, and pepper.
2. Stir in broth, wine, and garlic, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 1 hour.
3. Stir in carrots and onions; cover and cook 30 to 45 more minutes, or until beef and vegetables are tender.
4. In a small bowl, dissolve cornstarch in water. Add cornstarch mixture to beef mixture and stir for 1 minute, or until thickened.
5. Stir in sugar snap peas and cook 3 to 4 minutes more, or until heated through.

How to Wine Taste – a quick guide to wine tasting

I can’t think of a better way to begin this new blog than with a short wine tasting guide. It helped me a lot when I began to study this wonderful world of wine tasting.

Extract from: Wine Tasting: A Profesional Handbook. By Ronald S. Jackson. Elsevier 2002.

Each sample should be poured into identical, clear, tulip-shaped, wine glasses. They should each be filled (1/4 to 1/3 full) with the same volume of wine.


I. Appearance
1 – View each sample at a 30° to 45° angle against a bright, white background.
2 – Record separately the wine’s:clarity (absence of haze) color hue (shade or tint) and depth (intensity or amount of pigment) viscosity (resistance to flow) effervescence (notably sparkling wines)

II. Odor “in-glass”
1 – Sniff each sample at the mouth of the glass before swirling.
2 – Study and record the nature and intensity of the fragrancea (see Figs 1.3 and 1.4)
3 – Swirl the glass to promote the release of aromatic constituents from the wine.
4 – Smell the wine, initially at the mouth and then deeper in the bowl.
5 – Study and record the nature at intensity of the fragrance.
6 – Proceed to other samples.
7 – Progress to tasting the wines (III)

III. “In-mouth” sensations

(a) Taste and mouth-feel
1 – Take a small (6 to 10 ml) sample into the mouth.
2 – Move the wine in the mouth to coat all surfaces of the tongue, cheeks and palate.
3 – For the various taste sensations (sweet, acid, bitter) note where they are percieved, when first detected, how long they last, and how they change in perception and intensity.
4 – Concentrate on the tactile (mouth-feel) sensations of astringency, prickling, body, temperature, and “heat”.
5 – Record these perceptions and how they combine with one another.

(b) Odor
1 – Note the fragrance of the wine at the warmer temperatures of the mouth.
2 – Aspirate the wine by drawing air through the wine to enhance the release of its aromatic constituents.
3 – Concentrate on the nature, development and duration of the fragrance. Note and record any differences between the “in-mouth” and “in-glass” aspects of the fragrance

(c) Aftersmell
1 – Draw air into the lungs that has been aspirated through the wine for 15 to 30 s.
2 – Swallow the wine (or spit it into a cuspidor).
3 – Breath out the warmed vapors through the nose.
4 – Any odor detected in this manner is termed aftersmell; it is usually found only in the finest or most aromatic wines.

Although fragrance is technically divided into the aroma (derived from the grapes) and bouquet (derived from fermentation, processing and aging), descriptive terms are more informative.

IV. Finish

1 – Concentrate on the olfactory and gustatory sensations that linger in the mouth.
2 – Compare these sensations with those previously detected.
3 – Note their character and duration.

V. Repetition of assessment
1 – Reevaluate of the aromatic and sapid sensations of the wines, beginning at II.3—ideally several
times over a period of 30 min.
2 – Study the duration and development (change in intensity and quality) of each sample.

Finally, make an overall assessment of the pleasurableness, complexity, subtlety, elegance, power, balance, and memorableness of the wine. With experience, you can begin to make evaluations of its potential— the likelihood of the wine improving in its character with additional aging.

The most important part is the “repetition of assessment”!