2003 Bokisch Graciano, Lodi, CA

There are endless stories of winemakers (and those who dream of becoming winemakers) spending their careers and lives waiting for the chance to finally buy a piece of land in Napa and start their own label. Markus and Liz Bokisch did just the opposite.

It wasn’t necessarily that they wanted to flee Napa. Markus was having a fine time as a viticulturalist working for Joseph Phelps, and in particular in his role on what Phelps called the “Le Mistral” program. Markus’ job was to scour Northern California for out of the way growing areas planted with old vines bearing Grenache, Syrah, and other, less common Rhone Varietals.

On one of his trips around the state, he found himself in Lodi, within spitting distance of the Sierra Foothills on rolling hills of golden grass and live oaks, cooled at night by ocean breezes. Something registered in his brain at that point, gently taking hold of him. It wouldn’t surface again until Markus and Liz returned from 18 months “off” to work in the Spanish wine industry with a dream of making Spanish style wines in California.

It was an odd dream, really. Certainly some Spanish varietals existed in California at the time, but no one had really made a serious attempt to make Spanish style wines. This didn’t faze the Markus and Liz, however. The first chance they got, they picked up from Napa and headed out to buy a piece of property in Lodi, where they were convinced Spanish varietals would not only grow, but flourish.

That was 1998, and after three or four vintages, it seems that they were undeniably correct. Bokisch Vineyards has made a name for itself not only by being one of the few wineries in California to do more than just dabble in Tempranillo or Grenache, but also for making some pretty darn good wine. Markus has also made a name for himself as a viticultural consultant, specializing in growing practices for these varietals as well.

Bokish produces five wines: an Albariño, a rosado, a Grenache, a Tempranillo and this Graciano. They are a small operation, with a total case production hovering somewhere around 1200 cases.

So what the heck is Graciano anyway?

Graciano, not surprisingly given the Bokisch’s focus, is a traditional Spanish varietal that was once commonly planted in the Rioja region of Spain and which made up a small part of that region’s traditional red blends. It was also grown in various places in France during the early part of the 19th century under the name Morrastel, and can still be found in some vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina. Confusingly Morrastel is the name used in Spain for Mourvedre, as well as in North Africa, according to the Oxford Companion to Wine.

Graciano acreage has fallen in Spain, as well as the rest of the world, partially because it’s not an easy grape to grow, and because it provides pitifully low yields by acre.

This wine is made from 95% Graciano and 5% Tempranillo, and is aged for 16 months in oak — of what variety and newness I do not know. 250 cases are made.

Tasting Notes:
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a lovely, somewhat exotic nose of mulberry and black cherry aromas with hints of spice. In the mouth it is lush and juicy, with fantastic acidity and forward fruit flavors of black raspberry, plum, and mulberry. The wine has barest hint of tannins that surface as the wine heads towards a very nice finish which brings out a lightly-green woodiness that adds a pleasant note of complexity to the wine. Unlike most every red wine I’ve had from California in the last year or two, and a real pleasure because of it.

Food Pairing:
Today is Wine Blogging Wednesday, the 23rd edition of which is being hosted by Joel Vincent at Vivi’s Wine Journal. His instructions?: fire up the grill and find a wine to match, which is just what I did.

This wine would be a fantastic pairing with grilled meats of all kinds, especially sausages and other pork products. (Did I just use the phrase pork products? [shudder] make sure your pigs are free range and hormone free). The wine weighs in at 14.5% alcohol, so I wouldn’t pair it with the spiciest of links, but darned if it wouldn’t go well with some grilled Basque sausages from The Fatted Calf.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: Can be found for $20.

This wine is available for purchase on the internet.