A century ago Carignan ruled the vineyards of France. Today, wine drinkers demand quality not quantity and Carignan has fallen from favour. But there are hints of an overdue revival.
Old Carignan vines near Minervois
Carignan is a red wine grape that may have originated in Cariñena, Aragon and was later transplanted to Sardinia, elsewhere in Italy, France, Algeria, and much of the New World. Along with Aramon, it was once considered one of the main grapes responsible for France's wine lake in the days when prosperity was driven by quantity not quality.
In California, the grape is rarely used to make varietal wines, but some examples from old vines do exist. In Australia, Carignan is used as a component of blended wines. In the Languedoc, the grape is often blended with Cinsaut, Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Mourvèdre and Merlot. It has an upright growth habit and can be grown without a trellis. It was crossed to Cabernet Sauvignon to give Ruby Cabernet.
In winemaking the grape is often used as a deep coloring component in blends, rather than being made in a varietal form with some exception. Carignan produced from old vines in places like Montpeyroux and the Corbières AOC are predominantly Carignan. The grape is a difficult one for winemakers to work with being naturally high in acidity, tannins and astringency which requires a lot of skill to produce a wine of finesse and elegance. Some winemakers have experimented with Carbonic maceration and adding small amounts of Cinsault and Grenache with some positive results. Syrah and Grenache are considered its best blending partners being capable of performing a softer wine with rustic fruit and perfume. In California, Ridge Vineyards has found some success with a varietal wine made from Carignan vines that were planted in the 1880s.