Once seen as a workhorse variety, Carignan is coming back with a serious, flavour-packed bang.
Formerly one of the most important grape varieties in southern France, Carignan fell from grace in the 20th century due to a rapidly increasing demand for international varieties. Because of this, many of southern Europe’s treasured – and very old – vines were replaced with more ‘fashionable’ grapes, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.
However, Carignan is seeing a renaissance like never before, and it’s popularity amongst winemakers goes far beyond the south of France.
Referred to as Carignane in the United States and Cariñena in Spain / South America (also Samsó in Catalonia/Priorat and Mazuelo in Rioja), Carignan is known for its high levels of acidity and very austere tannins.
These traits have made the variety a go-to candidate for using in red blends, as the grape’s innately robust nature can be overpowering when vinified as a mono-varietal wine. However, many producers are turning to carbonic maceration and other techniques to craft easier-drinking, more approachable expressions of single-varietal Carignan.
In the vineyard, Carignan can be quite finicky. The grape is late ripening, which renders it susceptible to powdery mildew. Mechanical harvesting can also be tricky, as the vines themselves are quite hardy.
In terms of quantity, Carignan vines produce very high yields (for larger producers, this is seen more as a benefit than a disadvantage).
Today, Carignan is widely planted across the south of France (Languedoc and Roussillon, specifically), California’s Central Coast, Chile, Sardinia, and numerous regions in Spain, including Priorat, Catalonia, Rioja, and beyond.
The grape does well in hot, desert-like conditions and thrives in a variety of soils, from the llicorella (schist) based soils of Priorat to limestone and more.
Although detailed tasting notes are wine-specific, Carignan tends to show spicy flavours of dark fruits, pepper, liquorice and baking spice.
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