As the name suggests, Carignan’s botanic birthplace is today’s Cariñena DO, Aragon (Spain). Nowadays, however, not much Carignan still grows there as it was widely replaced by Garnacha, Macabeo and other grapes.
Carignan’s colonization of the Mediterranean coincides with the expansion of the Aragon’s Kingdom in the early Middle Ages....
As a result, Carignan presently grows in Rioja (where its known as Mazuelo), Costers del Segre, Penedès, Tarragona, Terra Alta, Montsant and Priorat (under the name Samsó), Minervois, Corbières, Faugères, Fitou, Languedoc and St-Chinian (Most often blended with Grenache, Syrah and other local grapes).
Its conquest reached all the way to Italy’s Lazio and Sardinia, where old vine “Carignano” produce some of the best Carignan-based wines in the world. Carignan was further taken in the “new world” and some places in South Africa, Australia, and Chile are producing amazing examples.
Believe it or not, Carignan was once the most widely planted grape in France. Until the 60’s, growers of the Languedoc-Roussillon and Algeria liked it for its ability to produce staggering yields of 200 hl per ha! (Just to compare, yields in Champagne are around 66 hl per ha and the maximum yield allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape is 35 hl/ ha). Carignan was abused to over-produce austere, severe table wines with too much acidity and tannin and too little fruit to balance it. So, to improve the finished beverage, winemakers often blended the more flavorful Grenache, Syrah and other local specialties - a practice that is still in vogue, even if some 100 percent Carignan wines are now made, and the wines are much better.
The few old vines that survived the European successive vine pull schemes (or that resisted the Merlot, Cabernet or Shiraz fashion in the new world) are found in the driest and warmest areas. There, the grapes can take their own sweet time to ripen fully without risks of mildew attacks. Because old vines grown on dry hot climates yield much smaller crops, the finished wines still have plenty of acidity, tannins, and color, but have the fruit concentration to balance it: Violet, blue berry, black cherry, prune, garrigue aromas and flavors are often found. Depending on the oak treatment and bottle ageing, these flavours combine well with vanilla and can evolve toward liquorice, cocoa and earthiness with bottle ageing.
To learn more about grape varieties, how they taste and where they grow, enroll the next WSET Level 2 Award in Wines with Wine & Spirit IQ in Bangkok
Clarke, O. & Rand, M. (2015) Grapes & Wines. New York: Sterling Epicure
Parode, N. (2008) Intowine.com Cariñena: "Wine and History in the Heart of Aragón"
Robinson, J. (2015) The Oxford Companion to Wine.New York: Oxford University Press Inc