Getting to Know Carignane
An important blending grape trying to make a name for itself
Carignan AKA Mazuelo, Bovale Grande, Cariñena and Carignane, is, for most wine lovers, a bit of an enigma. We know it’s out there, component in many blends, particularly from Spain and France, where it was the most widely planted variety in the country through much of the 1980s. But what do we really know of Carignane? Not so much because there have historically been relatively few varietal bottlings.
You have to ask yourself why that might be. The obvious answer of course is that it’s just not that interesting on its own. And this small tasting frankly seems to support that thesis. We are not, is is pointed out repeatedly, much smarter than the generations that have come before us, but like them we like to make our own mistakes. Now I’m not saying that varietally bottled Carignane is a mistake, I am after all very much a thousand flowers kind of guy. But when you consider that Carignane was the most widely planted grape variety in France in the 1980s and virtually no one was bottling it varietally. Well that’s damning with faint praise indeed.
But as is normally the case here, there is a silver lining.
In the case of Carignane it appears to be a gentle touch, and probably not terribly low crop yields. When made in a bit of a playful, light style Carignane is actually quite attractive. And at the other end of the spectrum, when it’s more concentrated and sports a liberal bit of oak, it’s obviously possible to produce a compelling Carignane. But as this modest tasting seems to illustrate, what falls in the middle is a bit tough to swallow.
Part of the issue lies with the grape itself. The flavors are rustic, bitter in some cases, with plenty of fruit, hints of flowers and chocolate on the nose, and plenty of rather aggressive minerality. It is quite obvious why it has been such a successful blending grape. It brings a bit of mid-palate power, great dark color, and spice notes to the table, but on it’s own it tends to lack elegance and nuance. And yet, there still are attractive interpretations of Carignane out there. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to taste so many versions in one sitting, always a great exercise in discovering the character of a grape, and can say that I’ve come away from this tasting with a better understanding of Carignane, even if all of it is not quite favorable. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy tastings like these. To a certain degree the specific outcomes, as relates to each wine tasted, are really not terribly important. What is important, to me, is the continuous exposure to the possibility of learning something new; one of the greatest attributes of this hobby of ours. So I look forward to my next Carigane tasting, though we don’t need to rush into these things, now do we?
We started out tasting today with two wines that were not served blind, the eight that followed where blind. These wines were chosen as the non-blind starters because of their lighter character, made as they were in a rather easy drinking style. A style that seems ideally suited to Carignane’s character.
Old vine Carignan, certified Organic by Ecocert AB, blended with 20% Certified Demeter Biodynamic Grenache.
A touch stinky on the nose with natural aromas of barnyard and dry grasses. Smooth in the mouth with early mineral notes and hints of chocolate and black cherry skin. While relatively lean and focused this turns a touch chewy on the midpalate and finishes tight and short. Relatively easy drinking if a touch rustic. 84pts
Carbonic maceration, organic farming, native yeasts.
Spicy on the nose and high-toned if graced with nuanced meaty, smoky, black olive and leathery aromas. Bright on entry and quite acid driven in the mouth, this is packed with juicy red fruit, all cranberry and wild cherry. There’s a nice touch of minerality to the palate and a hint of pomegranate on the backend that leads to a moderately long, acid driven and very zesty finish. A chillable red that would make for a fabulous picnic wine, and an intriguing red option for serving with fish. 86pts
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