Updated: Oct 10
As the name suggests, Carignan’s botanic birthplace is today’s Cariñena DO, Aragon (Spain) but the locals call the grape Mazuelo! To add to the confusion, it is France that grows most of it today. In Spain, it was widely replaced by Garnacha, Macabeo and other grapes. Here is the story of a grape that curious wine lovers shouldn't ignore:
Carignan’s colonization of the Mediterranean coincides with the expansion of the Aragon’s Kingdom in the early Middle Ages....
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! (In comparison, 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 wine, winemakers often blended richer and more flavorful Grenache, Syrah, Monastrell 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 yummier than ever before!
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 (Carignan is sensitive to fungal diseases and wouldn't do well in wet vineyards).
In 2016, the largest producing countries of Carignan/ Mazuelo were: France (67%), Spain (11.5%), Algeria (6.3%), Italy (3.6%), Morocco (2.6%), USA (2.3%), Israel (2%), Chile (1.7%) Mexico (0.9%) and Portugal (0.6%) The best examples will come from Rioja, 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 Tempranillo, Grenache, Syrah and other local grapes).
Aromas and Flavors
Because old vines grown on dry hot climates yield a much smaller crops, the resulting 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 most often mentioned in tastings. 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