Keep Calm and Carignan.
You may have heard Carignan referred to by one of its many names: Carignane, Carignano, Cariñena, Mazuelo, Moestal, Roussillonen or Samsó, to name a few. This red wine varietal is believed to have originated in Spain and is most often used as a blending grape. But when its high yielding vines are given attention and treated with reverence it can also produce balanced wines bursting with red fruit flavors and fine tannins.
Carignan is a vigorous a.k.a. high yielding, black-skinned grape. It is late budding and late ripening and therefore needs the long, hot growing season of an arid climate - such as the Mediterranean where it is widely grown - to fully mature. Though it grows vigorously, it is highly sensitive to powdery mildew, downy mildew and grape worms. It is found mostly in Southern France where it is a blending grape in Cotes Catalane, Corbieres, Minervois and Faugieres. In Spain - where it is most famously used as a blending grape in Priorat - it is known as Samsó, Mazuelo or Cariñena.
Before 1962, the French imported the majority of their Carignan grapes from Algeria. After Algeria gained its independence in 1962, The French began to grow Carignan widely in Southern France. It quickly became the most highly planted varietal in France, used mostly for producing low quality wines. Eventually, The E.U. offered cash subsidies to rip up Carignan vines and replace them with other vines. (Merlot surpassed Carignan as the most planted varietal). Sadly, this period of time sullied the grape’s reputation.
Today, however, the grape is experiencing a renaissance - in part because it is a great food wine. When well executed, Carignan wines are rich, smooth, well-balanced, medium–bodied wines with light tannins – perfect for pairing with both light and heavy dishes. They are a perfect fit for those who enjoy a light Zinfandel, a Merlot or a Rhone blend. Carignans are fruit forward with notes of red fruits, baking spices, licorice, and a delightful cured meat umami. Try it with a rich poultry (especially duck), anything pork, or even a beef brisket!
Here are a few of our favorite Carignans at Henry and Son:
Louis Antoine-Luyt 2013 Legno Duro – We have talked about Louis Antoine Luyt before. This native Burgundian now makes wine in Chile. His 100% Carignan was grown in the Maule Valley, 155 miles South of Santiago. The vines are 70 years old and they are farmed organically and without irrigation. He produces his “Tinto Chileno” using only native yeasts and carbonic maceration – a technique in which grapes are put in a sealed container in whole clusters and allowed to ferment inside of their skins. It produces fruity wines with low tannins. It is then aged in a combination of tanks and neutral oak barrels.
The wine needs a little time to open but then it is all kinds of YUM! It is bursting with juicy red fruits with tangy finish and a gentle chew like sour fruit leather. It has aromas of lavender and forest berries and with cinnamon, herbs, and joooooose on the palate. This wine is youthful, energetic, and fun. It’s a great introduction to Carignan.
Donkey and Goat Carignan 2013 – This 100% Carignane has been dry farmed on 75-year-old vines in Mendocino. It is grows on decomposed limestone and Pinnobie Loam and spends 8 months in neutral French oak barrels. This lean, medium bodied wine has aromas of red and black cherries, plums and blackberries with a subtle earthiness. Carignane’s characteristic umami cured meat aroma translates into blood sausage aromas on the nose and hints of black olives on the palate. It has medium tannins, notes of cherries and blackberries and a tart acidity.
Garage Wine Co. Lot #48 Portezuelo Vineyard Carignan 2013 – Garage Wine pays homage to garagistes - a group of winemakers who in the 1990s in Bordeaux bucked tradition and big business and produced wines on a small scale that were more in line with international trends. Garage Wines started as a hobby and over-time grew into a full-fledged business. They are low-intervention winemakers and work with grape growers from various regions in Chile.
This is a field blend from the Itata Valley in Chile made with 10 barrels of Carignan and one of Cinsault. The vineyard is the site of the first winery in Chile where they still farm by hand and with horses. It is naturally fermented with native yeasts in small tanks with open tops. It was then barrel aged for two winters. The result is a rich, fleshy wine with the scent of herbs, wildflowers and soil. It has a full body for a Carignan with dark luscious fruits and notes of pepper and clove and grip on the finish.
Domaine La Manarine Le Carignan 2014 – Here we have 100% Carignan from the old world, where it is best known as a blending grape. Domaine La Manarine in the Rhone produces this powerful and fleshy Carignan with fine tannins and a firm grip. The characteristic berry notes mixed with gamey umami flavors are accented by hints of tar, lavender, and a heavy dose of pepper.