Carignan, a grape known for its historical dominance in old vineyards, particularly in the Mediterranean regions, is an intriguing paradox. It has been historically famed for its high yields, making it a favorite among bulk wine producers, yet, when treated with care, it possesses an uncanny ability to produce wines of exceptional depth and character. Join us as we journey through the story of Carignan, its challenges, its revival, and the exquisite wines it brings to life.
Origins and History
Carignan’s origins trace back to Spain, where it’s known as “Cariñena” or “Mazuelo.” It was named after the Aragon region of Cariñena, believed to be its birthplace. From Spain, it spread to France, particularly in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, where it found a home and quickly became one of the most widely planted grapes.
The grape’s popularity in the 20th century, particularly in France, was due to its high-yielding nature, which supported the production of inexpensive, bulk wines. However, this very trait also led to its decline, as the wine market began to shift its focus from quantity to quality.
Characteristics and Flavor Profile
Carignan is a late budding and late ripening variety, which means it requires a long, warm growing season to mature fully. This is why it thrives in the Mediterranean climate.
Wines made from Carignan often exhibit deep ruby colors. On the nose and palate, it presents a mix of red and dark fruits like raspberry, cherry, plum, and blackberry. These fruity notes can be accompanied by hints of pepper, licorice, and sometimes even savory undertones of olive and herbs. Due to its naturally high tannin and acid levels, Carignan wines can often benefit from some aging, which allows them to develop softer tannins and more complex flavor profiles.
Notable Wine Regions for Carignan
- Languedoc-Roussillon (France): Here, old vine Carignan, some even a century old, produces wines of remarkable concentration and depth.
- Spain: Especially in Catalonia and its Priorat region, where it contributes to some of the area’s prestigious blends.
- Chile: The Maule Valley is home to some ancient Carignan vines, leading to a resurgence in the grape’s popularity due to the unique wines produced from these old vines.
- California (USA): Some winemakers, especially those seeking to produce more European-style wines, have embraced Carignan, particularly using old vines.
Given Carignan’s robust nature, it pairs splendidly with hearty dishes. Think grilled meats, stews, and sausages. Its high acidity and tannin content make it a good match for fatty cuts of meat, as well as dishes with tomato-based sauces. Vegetarians can pair Carignan with grilled vegetables, mushroom dishes, or even lentil-based preparations.
The tale of Carignan is one of resurgence and rediscovery. From being a workhorse grape used primarily in bulk wine production, it has witnessed a renaissance, particularly from old vines, that showcases its ability to produce wines of depth, complexity, and character. It stands as a testament to the fact that with the right care and respect, even the most underestimated grape varieties can produce wines that enchant the senses. As you sip on a glass of Carignan, remember the resilience of this grape and the generations of vineyards that stood the test of time, only to gift us with wines of unmatched legacy and taste. Cheers to Carignan, the phoenix grape of the Mediterranean!