Reputation is important in the world of wine and a bad one, whether deserved or not, can take a while to shake off. Ask a wine lover about Carignan and you’re likely to get a very mixed reaction, despite the enormous quality potential of the grape. A Spanish grape in its heart, Carignan is far better known for its role as a volume producer in the flat plains of the vast Languedoc-Roussillon; often grown at enormous yields and destined for a quick turn-around in the local co-operatives (a particular shame for the many quality producers there). Lucky are the few who know it from it’s true spiritual home; Catalunya.
You see, Carignan is a grape that needs a mature vineyard and an experienced hand to really show its true colours. There are grapes that can show strong varietal character and depth as young vines and there are grapes that are universally appreciated from the get-go. Carignan is neither. Yet when healthy grapes are plucked from the gnarled, old bush vines, ripened to perfection in the warm Mediterranean sunshine, it’s a very different story. It doesn’t come without its challenges, with the tightly packed bunches being particularly prone to rot, powdery mildew and heat damage. Overcome those challenges in the vineyards though and the wine-maker often finds themselves with low yields of seriously beautiful, concentrated fruit; there won’t be a lot of wine, but it will be delicious!
Naturally dark in colour and high in acidity, it’s often used as a blending agent with other indigenous grapes, particularly Garnacha. However, it really shows itself best as a monovarietal wine, or as the dominant grape in the blend, where its full personality comes to the fore. Ripe, soft tannins, black and blue fruits, orange peel, subtle herbal and floral characters characterise the wines, with refreshing acidity balancing well against the weight and power of the fruit.
Known as Samsó in Catalunya, the rediscovery of these old vineyards has made for a remarkable success story over the past two decades. From Terra Alta in the South, to Empordà in the far North, Catalunya is home some of the most remarkable Carignan dominant vineyards in the world. There’s no better grape to communicate the rugged power of Priorat and it’s llicorella soils, nor one to showcase the depth of old vines in Terra Alta. Look at a quality producer and if they have a varietal Carignan, you can bet it will be their most treasured bottling. Come discover the beauty of Carignan in Catalunya and see for yourself!