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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Top Carignane Tasted 3/14

Stark Wine Company Carignane Trimble Vineyard (2012)
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Cline Cellars Carignane Ancient Vines (2010)
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Bedrock Wine Company Carignane (2012)
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Ridge Geyserville (2011)
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Broc Cellars Carignan Alexander Valley (2012)
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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
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    Very interesting article. I find the disparity in the judges' opinions to be very interesting. My guess is that there is no consensus as to what Carignane should be, and I think that's great. Varietal bottlings of Carignane are pretty hard to find, even here in California, but over the last few decades I have enjoyed the occasional example. Frankly, I love the rustic earthiness that I get in most of them. I am very excited to see that California heavy hitters Bedrock, Cline and Ridge are producing some very good examples. I will be looking for them.

    Apr 03, 2014 at 1:54 PM

  • Snooth User: MikeDashe
    417618 4

    Personally, I love to blend Carignane with Petite Sirah and Zinfandel--I always felt that Carignane added a bit of spice to Ridge Geyserville to add layers of flavor and spice. I think that's one reason Geyserville is one of my favorite Zin-based wines. Tough grape to taste by itself, though. I'm using Carignane both from the 1888 vines at Bedrock Vineyard, as well as 100 year old vines on the Evangelo Vineyard in Contra Costa county for some of my wines, and I feel that Carignane is essential to these blends--really adds texture and interesting highlights of flavor.

    Apr 03, 2014 at 3:32 PM

  • Snooth User: pasopablo
    925075 27

    Try J Dusi Carignane. The winemaker knows what to do with these Paso Robles grapes.

    Apr 03, 2014 at 5:51 PM

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
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    262583 4,003

    Really nice to see Mike Dashe on here--I almost opened one of his Zins last night but opted for a Nero d'Avola at the last minute. And he's right that we need lots of Carignane to make some of the best Zins--most of those old vine field blend Zins have PS and Carignane because those genius old farmers planted 'em that way. Don't know how they knew, but they did. As a varietal, there aren't lots of great ones or even very good, but Porter Creek bottles one from grapes from Mendocino County and it's a winner. Fatto a Mano also sells one under Carignano (available at SF wine shop Cask) and it's also good. Problem is they are priced over $20 often, and there's just so much good wine at that price. The bright acids, minerality and energetic fruit can make it a nice alternative to sangiovese, or, in lighter styles, gamay for folks like me who don't really dig Beaujolais all that much. But it needs to be priced in the low teens to cut into the wines it should compete with.

    Apr 03, 2014 at 8:18 PM

  • Snooth User: doug2
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    Toucan Wines Old Vine Carignane is an awesome example from the 120 yr old Evangelho vineyard in Contra Costa County -

    Apr 04, 2014 at 11:19 AM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
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    Very exciting to hear, Doug. I'll look for it.

    Apr 04, 2014 at 2:52 PM

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
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    Pretty sure that's the same Doug that writes Toucan's blog posts? Just in the interest of disclosure.

    Apr 04, 2014 at 4:22 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 7,305

    Well, Fox, if you look at the picture, it is pretty obvious that Doug2 has a vested interest. I clicked on the web link and visited the Toucan Wines site. I would not be surprised if Doug2 is Doug Timewell.

    That being said, I don't think I can ignore the pedigree of the Evangelho Vineyard. (OT, has turned me into a Historic Vineyards Missionary of sorts.) If I can find a bottle in a store the next time I'm in the Central Coast (which, I suspect, is the only area I'll be able to find it), I would be happy to try a bottle.

    Apr 04, 2014 at 5:21 PM

  • Snooth User: HenriT
    1023447 14

    If you haven't included any Carignano del Sulcis from Sardegna in your tasting, you haven't really gotten to the heart of the matter. This is a wine that doesn't lack for personality, intensity, or depth and I think it consistantly shows off the varietal character better than anything I've tasted from either Spain or France.

    Apr 04, 2014 at 6:35 PM

  • Snooth User: dryhopped2
    544495 25

    Please try Cooper Vineyards Cargnane from Amador County.

    Apr 04, 2014 at 8:37 PM

  • Snooth User: JenniferT
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    I managed to buy a bottle of the Cline Ancient Vines Carignane in Alberta, and I'm really looking forward to opening it. I'd like to cook something to showcase the pairing so we can learn as much from it as much as possible - I'd love to hear any ideas.

    Also a question for Greg (or anyone, really) - how do you differentiate TCA from TBA when tasting a tainted wine?

    Apr 04, 2014 at 9:49 PM

  • Snooth User: JenniferT
    Hand of Snooth
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    Ugh. I actually received a notification and came back to just see the reply, only to realize that it has nothing to do with wine and everything to do with an AD that shouldn't be here. I can't delete it either.

    Apr 05, 2014 at 12:56 AM

  • Snooth User: vin0vin0
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    Had a great visit last year at Testa Vineyards in Mendocino and came away with a fantastic bottle of their 2010 Carignane. Tasted at the winery and bought a bottle that is still in the eurocave resting nicely for at least a short while.

    Apr 05, 2014 at 9:25 PM

  • Finding a good Carignan cépage is quite tough. Just as the Carignan grape itself can be tough. Often maceration carbonique is applied to emphasize the fruit. Carignan from Vieilles Vignes in the Languedoc Roussillon can be very nice. Domaine de l'Arca near Perpignan has a good one. I visited them last year.

    Apr 13, 2014 at 3:12 PM

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