Carignan | Modest Grape of the d'Oc
- Synonyms: Cariñena, Mazuelo, Samsó, Carignane, Carignan Noir, Carignano, Gragnano, Pinot Evara.
- Found in Spain, France, America, North African countries
Once the most-planted grape across France in the 1960s-2000s, the great fall of the varietal came to pass in the 1980s as the scheme to pull out vines came to fruition. This almost halved the total vines of Carignan and now almost all of it is grown in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, where it is primarily produced as Vin de France wine. The reason behind the vast plantings in the region? The extremely high yields. The grapes ability to produce up to 200l/hectare is rare and economises the winemaker’s production incredibly. Unfortunately over time, there has been a tipping scale back and forth as to quality wines produced and quantities churned out. The opportunity presented itself as the Aramon vines began dying out in the 1960s from cool weather, therefore droves of vine growers from Algeria migrated across with the Carignan vine and planted them all across the Languedoc region, taking over within the decade.
Said to be birthed from the village of Cariñena in Aragon, there is now only a small portion of vines left there by the Carignan name. Spread out to the acclaimed region of Priorat, as well as widely used in Catalonia, this grape varietal has remained a constant in the world of Spanish wine.
Hailing from Aragon, Spain, Carignan remained close to the Mediterranean coast over the centuries, now found in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. Its primary use is in blends with other red grape varietals such as Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, yet some winemakers enjoy the challenge of creating a single varietal wine with finding unique ways to bring forth the otherwise lacking flavour.
Preferring warmer climates, the dry regions along the coast allow this black-skinned varietal to express high tannins along with decent colouring and acidity. Usually grown as bush vines, most plantings are incredibly old and require hand-harvesting due to the tough stems that have developed over the decades. While grown as bush vines, the yields must be all kept in check with its natural ability to overpopulate the vines and lower the concentration of each berry.
Unfortunately, Carignan is highly susceptible to powdery mildew, requiring extensive spraying to mitigate its vulnerabilities, leading to organic Carignan wines being very rare.
Carignan is not only considered tough on the vine but tough in bottle also, with high levels of tannins and acidity there are few that create a single varietal wine with it. The vinification method of carbonic maceration is commonly used for this varietal to soften the tannins and ensure that the resultant wines can be drunk in their youth. This method also brings forth the dark and black fruits, pepper, and liquorice style aromas.
Alternatively the Carignan varietal is the perfect addition to blends, providing the body and depth to highly aromatic wines such as Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre.
Deemed a perfect food wine, its tannins softened by carbonic maceration, allow it to pair perfectly with both bold dishes and lighter ones. Bringing elements of red fruit, spice, and some cured meat elements allows decadent meals of Lasagne, meatballs, and sausages to align the palate perfectly. Even some curries that bring out the similar spices of cumin, cinnamon, and star anise can be a delightful combination.