Topic of the Week 12/26/2018 - Advanced

Interesting points last week on the sub zones of Muscadet Sévre-et-Maine last week from , , , and . Thanks everyone!

This week: Carignan

Where does it grow? What are its challenges? What regions produce great examples? Name 3 top producers.

  • Please let me know if anything is not accurate. I can always adjust!

    Where does it grow:

    • France
      • Languedoc-Roussillon
    • Spain
      • Catalonia (they call it Samso)
      •  Rioja (they call it Mazuelo)
    • Italy 
      • Sardinia
    • USA


    • Late ripening (so it does better in hot regions that don't frost over during the cold months) 
    • Susceptible to powdery mild and downy mildew (so please only plant this grape is dry regions) 
    • At a young age Carignan can be extremely tannic (however old vine Carignan is delicious) 
    • Not Suitable for mechanical harvesting as its stalks are particularly tough (hand harvesting is costly) 
    • I've had trouble finding amazing Carignan, however I have found a couple of gems!

    What regions produce great examples:

    • Languedoc-Roussillon (this region crushes it)
    • Sardinia

    Name 3 Top Producers:

    • Domaine Bertrand Berge,Les Megalithes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
    • Catina Santadi, Terre Brune, Carignano del Sulcis Superiore, Sradinia, Italy
    • Vall Llach, Porrera Vi de la Vila, Priorat DOCa, Spain 
  • Carignan is a black grape variety which may have originated in Spain, specifically in the Aragon provence. It is late ripening and high-yielding (easily producing 11 tons/acre) and was once the most popular variety in France throughout much of the 20th century. Now, however, it is the fifth most planted and steadily declining with the help of an EU vine pull scheme. The variety is particularly susceptible to powdery and downy mildews and rot.  In France, it can be found mostly in the Languedoc-Roussillon where it makes a structured wine that mostly finds itself in many of the red wine blends of the region. Producers of note in this region include; Domaine D'Aupilhac (Languedoc AOP, Montpeyroux), Bertrand Bergé (Fitou AOP) and Roc de Anges in Roussillon (Cotes Catalanes IGP).

    In Spain, it can be found mostly in Cataluna. Samso/Cariyena (Carignan) makes compelling wine in Priorat but can also be found in Costers del Segre, Penedes, Tarragona and Terra Alta. Les Tosses, Ferrer Bobet , Vall Llach are some Priorat producers of note.

  • There are a smattering of plantings as well in the US, particularly in California, with that majority of vineyards in Contra Costa, Sonoma, and Mendocino Counties. The grape, traditionally spelled Carignane, is one of a handful of varieties with significant plantings in existing pre-Prohibition vineyards in California. For much of the 20th century it was typically vinified in the 'mixed-blacks' field blends of the old vineyards, along with Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Mataro, and Alicante Bouschet. Only recently has the wine been reliably vinified as a varietal in California, with good examples coming from Sandlands, Ryme, and Forlorn Hope.

    There are two light-skinned mutations of the grape, Carignan Blanc and Carignan Gris, almost exclusively found on France's southwestern Mediterranean coast in Roussillon, and the contiguous Catalunya region in Spain. Like the red wines, the white and pink-skinned varieties typically show high acidity and muted aromatics. They share the same viticultural hazards, late ripening with high susceptibility to powdery mildew. In Spain, the lighter-skinned mutations are rarely, if ever, vinified as varietals, and are typically blended with Macabeo. 

  • Carignan, as mentioned in previous posts, most likely originated in Spain’s Aragon region – and most commonly referred to as Mazuelo.

    • Side note: The reason Mazuelo is the least ambiguous name for Carignan in Spain is because Carinena is town near Zaragoza in Aragon and the Samso is a synonym for Cinsault as well as Carignan. The Spaniards like to keep it interesting.

     As a varietal it is late budding and late ripening so it thrives in warmer climates. The bunches tend to sit very close to the vine making it difficult to harvest by machine

     The majority of Carignan plantings in the world are found in the Languedoc (holding about 80% of Carignan plantings in France). The popularity of the grape has diminished making way for the popular GSM blends. It is also found in Sardegna (Boval Grande) Spain (most commonly Mazuelo), US | California (Contra Costa, Sonoma, Mendocino). Chile, while not high on the scale for Hectares planted, is doing some amazing things with old vine carignan. 

    Pax: Old Vine Carignan from Testa Vineyard in Mendocino - not sure if he is producing this anymore
    Sandlands: Contra Costa - one of my favorites 
    Keep wines – Evangelho Vineyard in Contra Costa

    P.S. Garcia  Maule, Chile – Felipe helped to lead the charge in the VIGNO movement which is based around old vine carignan. This requires the vineyard be a minimum of 30yrs old, either original rootstock, or grafted onto old Pais rootstock, dry- farmed and from Maule. Min 65% old vine carignan – min 24 mo in barrel or bottle. 

    Familia Nit-Ortiz – Nit de Nin – Priorat (paired with garnacha)
    Joan d’Anguera – l’Hostel – Montsant
    Terrior al Limit - Priorat – garnacha based wines with carinyena
    Rioja Classics: Lopez de Heredia, Muga, La Rioja Alta will throw in a splash of Mazuelo in for good measure.

    Tempier – Bandol Cuvee Classique Rouge – Mourvedre, Grenahce, Cinsault, Carignan blends
    Domaine Hauvette – Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache blends

  • So, for all its disadvantages ( late-ripening so grows well only in warmer regions, susceptibility to mildews so needs spraying and because of its tough stalks and tight clusters not conducive to mechanical harvesting, its resultant wine is high acid and hgh tannin making it bitter and rough),it was widely grown in  Southern France because it is very high-yielding: easily 180hl/ha output , which according to Jancis Robinson, is 4 times the output of cabernet sauvignon.

    Because of the shifting preference on the market place for better quality wines, the acreage devoted to Carignon has steadily declined to give room to the likes of Mouvedre, Syrah and Grenache etc. This is encouraged by the EU pull-vine grants. Less and less new Carignon vines are plantedthese days.

  • I remember a Carignan focus seminar at Texsom a few years ago. The panel's takeaway after we tasted through 6 different varietal or majority Carignan was that it works wonderfully as a blending grape, but no so much on its own. The wines just didn't have a wonderful texture or enough complexity to stand alone. It fills a gap similar to Petit verdot or fer servadou, in that a little can go a long way to rounding out a blend. 

    , you were on that panel and have worked with the grape. Anything to add to this discussion?

  • hosted a Carignan around the world seminar at Sommcon in San Diego this year! He may also have some insight.

  • Now thats a seminar I wish I was at! 

  • Yes, we pretty much found that it is boring on its own until the vines reach about 45-50 years of age.

    I can attest to it adding complexity in blending.  A few years ago, we have Leif Olsen plant it for us in Yakima.  I think one of its issues is that is crops very heavy, so must be managed. On its own, it just tastes like generic jug wine. But blended with Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre, it adss some aromatic lift and brightens the palate.  I'm happy we have it.

  • I think its worth a mention that Musar uses a hefty portion of it out there in Lebanon.  Gotta give the shoutout to the boys in Bekaa and Ghazir!

  • Thanks Molly.  I can send my powerpoint to anyone who wishes to get a copy,  Email me at glabitzke@kistlervineyards,com

  • We used a great one from Tunisia.