Wine Profile: Carignane
Have you tasted Carignane before? Have you ever heard of it? If the answer to both of those is no, then you might be surprised to learn that is in the top ten of all grapes planted globally. However, it is mostly used as a blending grape and quite rarely seen as a single varietal bottling. A fact that might lend itself to some of its unearned obscurity.
A GRAPE BY ANY OTHER NAME
While Carignane is thought to have originated in Spain, there are far more acres planted in France. In Spain, it is planted mostly in the Rioja region, where it goes by one of two names, Cariñena (named for the town it’s thought to have originated in), or Mazuelo. But by either name, it is used primarily to add complexity, spice and an almost floral note to the wines of this prestigious region.
SO BIG AND SO BLENDED
In France, Carignane is the workhorse of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. It was originally planted in droves in the area post-phylloxera for three reasons: It’s a highly productive crop, it survives on very little water, and it was government subsidized. Unfortunately, these factors combined to ensure that a lot of low-quality Carignane was produced. Carignane is a high production grape, but when it is cultivated for high yields the fruit has very little character. In fact, France’s acreage of Carignane was virtually halved in the 1990s when many of the vineyards had rebounded from the phylloxera epidemic and there was no longer such a need for low quality over produced wine. That means what remains in the area are older vines, who produce less fruit year after year but also produce much higher quality, more complex fruit.
SAME USE DIFFERENT PLACE
In the United States Carignane is mostly grown in the warmer climate regions of California. It does well in Lodi, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Mendocino and Santa Barbara County. In California, as in France and Rioja, it is also mainly used as a blending grape.
THE AUTHENTIC FLAVOR
Carignane, whether in a blend or on its own, tends to have a rather pronounced personality. Right off the bat is the color, which tends to be a rather bright magenta. It is also high in both acid and tannin and can have a slight bitterness to the finish. Carignane tends to have bright fruit-forward flavors like dried cranberry, dark cherry, raspberry, and black currant. But all that fruit is often followed up with an undercurrent of baking spices, pepper, black licorice, and even hints of cured meat.
PROFILE IS EVERYTHING
As with almost all wine though this flavor profile changes depending on where the grapes are grown. In France, Carignane tends to be picked early to preserve the flavor and cut down on the tannins. Additionally, because Carignane is consumed younger, many winemakers opt to put the wine through carbonic maceration to further soften the tannins and natural acidity of the wine. On the flip side, the Spaniards prefer to leave Carignane on the vine for a long time; resulting in wines with darker fruit profiles and a more developed structure and tannins.
CARIGNANE: GREAT PARTNER FOR MANY PAIRS
With its structured tannins and striking acidity, Carignane tends to act more like an ingredient than a pairing. Carignane is a medium-bodied wine so it can pair with both bold and lighter fare. It works well with everything from poultry to roasted pork to brisket. And pairs especially well with dishes that expand on its natural spice profile by incorporating baking spice, pepper, and dried herbs. It would be an ideal partner for any salad featuring peppery green. And is also a great compliment for a wide array of cheeses.