Getting to Know Carignane

An important blending grape trying to make a name for itself

The Blind Tasting Line-up
My 5/8, the group’s 6/8
A touch herbal and slightly oaky on the nose with spicy black cherry fruit and hints of candied herb aromas.  Bright, lean and a bit simple in the mouth. This shows off subtly mineral tinged wild red cherry fruit and red currant fruit on the palate with hints of herbs on the palate and through the moderately long finish, which does show a touch of heat. A bit rustic as well. 86pts
My 6/8, the group’s 7/8
A bit raw and woody on the nose though with attractive violet nuances over a base of chocolate, herb and green nutty notes. Seamless on entry, with fine grained ripe tannins and nuanced tobacco, spicy plum, and oak flavors. This turns inky, bitter, and over-extracted on the backend and very clunky and chunky on the modest finish. A bit forced. 84pts
My 4/8, the group’s 4/8
Sweet oak greets the nose with hint of coconut and suntan lotion over blueberry fruit that shows some subtle spicy character. Bright and focused in the mouth, there’s a nice faceted feel here though not much complexity beyond an attractive blend of tart blueberry pie filling, vanilla and a hint of latex.  There’s a nice touch of almost stemmy spice on the finish, which turns a touch sour.  A little straight forward and simple. 87pts
My 2/8, the group’s 2/8
A bit jammy on the nose with lots of sour cherry fruit and creamy oak but this also shows some complexity with notes of leather, milk chocolate, vanilla and juniper. Rather large scaled in the mouth, this is smooth, rich with soft tannins, and hints of woody spice herbs, and sweet vanilla all wrapping up a core of clack currant and black cherry fruit leading to a well balanced finish that shows a bit of elegance and freshness that sets this apart from many of the other wines tasted tonight. A bit modern and obvious but very well done. 90pts
My 8/8, the group’s 8/8
While some participant s in our tasting felt this wine as corked I did not sense any TCA on the nose, finding instead off-putting and assertive aromas of mint, liquid smoke, and harsh raw woodnotes. On the palate there was some fruit on entry, but the mid-palate as stripped and the finish non-existent lending credence to the theory that this wine was corked, though perhaps with TBA instead of TCA, which can be harder to identify. None the less, not a good bottle of wine. NR
My 1/8, the group’s 5/8
Jammy and fruity on the nose with attractive gingerbread oak tones working well with violet, cocoa, and chocolate-laced wild berry fruit aromas. Bright, clean and fresh in the mouth with gorgeous berry fruit and a suggestion of watermelon freshness that shows fine purity and expresses the violets and chocolate found on the nose without being at all heavy or intense on the palate, though there is a touch of fruity sweetness which s well balanced by slight hints of minerally bitterness.  Just bright and lovely. 91pts
90% Carignane, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
My 7/8, the group’s 1/8
Deep and focused on the nose with an earthy core, smoky nuance, and wild plum and wild cherry aromas. On the palate this comes off as a bit tannic and extracted, leading to a mid-palate that’s a bit hollow. Darkly fruited and inelegant, this finishes with bitterness and vanilla, and woody sweetness. It feels rustic and raw and while air helps to bring out some additional mid-palate depth this is just a very reticent wine. Perhaps a bit more time in the bottle will allow for improvement. 83pts
From vines planted in 1888
My 3/8, the group’s 2/8
At first this was somewhat tight on the nose with hints of creamy French oak and some coconut nuance but air brought out fruity and bright spicy nuanced wild black cherry and boysenberry fruit. Round and complete in the mouth, this is a bit creamy and almost lush in this company with juicy wild berry fruit flavors in the mouth framed by assertive but not imposing toasty oak, which lends sweetness particularly on the moderately long finish. Gaining aromatic complexity with air this shows the best potential for improvement in the bottle as it’s a touch raw and slightly tannic this evening, though it still makes for fun drinking. 89pts
As you can see there was some disagreement this evening among the participants. I favored the bright and juicy examples of Carignane as well as those that were, for lack of a better phrase, a little tarted up. Usually I prefer wines that are less oaky, but Carignane seems to benefit from the sweetness, creaminess, and spice oak lends a wine. It just goes to show that ideologically driven views on wine will meet their exceptions!

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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
    847804 5,606

    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
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 2,876

    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
    Hand of Snooth
    92358 19

    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
    847804 5,606

    Very exciting to hear, Doug. I'll look for it.

    Apr 04, 2014 at 2:52 PM

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 2,876

    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 5,606

    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 7

    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
    Hand of Snooth
    1277765 1,036

    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
    1277765 1,036

    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
    Hand of Snooth
    357808 5,059

    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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