Carignan is a red wine grape that 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 considered one of the main grapes responsible for France's wine lake. 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.
Carignan is believed to have originated in Spain in the Aragon region and was historically a component of neighboring Rioja's red wine blend. From Spain it gained prominence in Algeria and fed that country's export production to France. Upon Algeria's independence in 1962, the French supply of Carignan wine was cut off and growers in Southern France began to plant the vine for their own production. The grape's prominence in France hit a high point in 1988 when it accounted for 167,000 hectares and was France's most widely planted grape. That year, in a drive to increase the overall quality of European wine and to reduce the growing wine lake phenomenon, the European Union started an aggressive vine pull scheme where vineyard owners were offered cash subsidies in exchange for pulling up their vines. Out of all the French wine varieties, Carignan was the most widely affected dropping by 2000 to 95,700 ha (236,000 acres) and being surpassed by Merlot as the most widely planted grape.
The grape is most widely found in south France, particularly in the Languedoc regions of Aude, Gard and Hérault where it is often made as Vin ordinaire and in some Vin de pays wines. In Spain the grape is almost non-existent in its ancestral home of Aragon where it was once a secondary component of wine from the Cariñena region after Grenache and Bobal. It has found some prominence in the Catalan wine regions of Priorat, Costers del Segre, Penedès, Tarragona and Terra Alta. As of 2004, Spain had around 7,000 ha (17,300 acres). In Italy the grape is most commonly found in Sardina and Lazio where it is often found as a rosé. The Carignano del Sulcis DOC features a Carignan based rosso from the Sardinian islands of Sant'Antioco and San Pietro. In the New World, Carignan was often planted in the warmer wine regions of California, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia and South Africa.
At one point in California's wine history, Carignane (as it is known here) was the third most widely planted grape variety but has since dropped considerably in production . The majority of the vines were planted in the Central Valley and used to make inexpensive box and jug wines. In the 1970s and 1980s, Californian Carignane was one of the leading "home winemaking" grapes in production. In Australia the grape was often confused with the Bonvedro vine, which is similarly prone to diseases, but in recent years Australian winemakers have been able to identify true Carignan. The grape is still popular in North Africa in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Carignan also played an important role in the early development of the Israeli wine industry though it is not as prominent today. Chinese winemakers have also experimented with growing Carignan in some of their warmer wine regions.
Viticulture and winemaking
The popularity of Carignan is largely tied to its ability to produce very large yields in the range of 200 hl/ha (11 tons/acre). The vine does face significant viticultural hazards with high sensitivity to rot, powdery mildew, downy mildew and grape worms. Carignan is a late budding and ripening grape which requires a warm climate in order to achieve full ripeness. The vine also develops very thick stalk around the grape clusters which makes mechanical harvesting difficult. A white grape mutation known as Carignan blanc also exist in Roussillon in small plantings of around 1000 ha (2,500 acres).
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
If you think it is very susceptible to powdery mildew and downy mildew, is subject to rot and can be infested by worms of the grape, one wonders why it is still so extensively cultivated, to the point of forcing many denominations to take this into account, while not making the wine or interesting features that justify its presence. The only factor is, therefore, its high production capacity which, however, given the dramatic change that the process is having wine around the world, is no longer sufficient reason. Its leaf is of medium size, pentagonal and five-lobed; cluster medium, conical or cylindrical-conical, often pyramidal, winged, semi-compact or compact, medium berry, ovoid, moderately thick-skinned, blue-violet and bloom. Perhaps its best located in the Sardinia, in particular in the Terre Brune 's Cantina Sociale di Santadi .
Alghero - blend in
Cannonau of Sardinia - a field blend
Carignano Sulcis - blend in
The grape is known under a variety of synonyms through the world. In Spanish it is known as Cariñena with Mazuelo, Tinto Mazuelo, Crujillon and Samsó also being used in Spain. In California it is spelled with an extra vowel on the end as Carignane. In Catalan the grape is known as Carinyena. In Portugal it is known as Pinot Evara even though it has no relation to the Pinot family of grapes. Other French synonyms include Carignan noir, Bois Dur, Catalan, Roussillonen, Monestel and Plant de Lédenon.