Weekly Wine Defined – Carignan

This vigorous vine produces a dark skinned blending grape valued in winemaking for its dark color. Rarely will you see a Carignan “selfie.” Carignan is high in acidity, tannins and astringency which, given those attributes, takes a lot of work to make an elegant wine.

The whole cluster fermentation technique called carbonic maceration can tames the rough edges of the wine. Or just blending it with another vat of wine makes an interesting and delicious wine. Which is usually what happens in the Priorat region of Spain; those powerful wines can be a combination of Grenache, Carignan, Cabernet, and Syrah.

Carignan is widely planted in southern France, around the Languedoc regions of Aude, Gard and Hérault; usually producing a Vin ordinaire or Vin de Pays. Other regions include Spain, California and Algeria.

The acreage planted to Carignan in France has dropped in recent years by half. It has also dropped in Spain, the second largest grower of Carignan. Carignan was brought to California early on by the Italian immigrants and there are a number of older vineyards still thriving there. But its not high on the list of grapes to be planted there either.

Carignan requires a warm climate to perform best. The tight clusters are prone to mildew and rot and susceptible to moth infestations. Another problem in this industrial age are the short stems and compactness of the clusters making machine harvesting impractical.

And much like Pinot Noir and Sangiovese, it’s unstable, meaning it has a tendency to mutate. The French currently have over 25 separate clones. Pinot Noir has around 48 and Sangiovese, 14 and still counting.