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Carignan cluster.The most widely-planted red wine grape in France is Carignan (sometimes spelled Carignane in the US, a.k.a. Carignano in Italy, and Mazeulo throughout most of Spain). The variety likely originated in the ancient region of Aragon, near Cariñena, Spain, in the province of Zaragoza, where a reputation for winegrowing began to develop with the Romans around the year 50 BC. Today, Grenache dominates most D.O. Cariñena vineyards and less than 10% of the appellation remains planted to Carignane.

Carignan is well-suited to arid climates with long growing seasons; it buds and ripens quite late, so is not prone to spring frosts, but requires a long Summer to ripen. A vigorous, though not really hardy vine, it is very sensitive to downy mildew and powdery mildew (a.k.a. oidium), problematic to harvest, and mostly results in wines that are serviceable, but undistinguished. Even so, Carignan has but a single characteristic to recommend it for planting: high yields. An acre of Carignan may easily produce 8 to 14 tons of grapes in a warm, fertile, irrigated vineyard.

Planting became widespread within the Languedoc-Rousillon and southeastern area of France during the 1960s, when Algeria gained its independence and was no longer an inexpensive source of ripe grapes. As has been the trend in Spain, most Carignan in France and is gradually being replaced with more distinctive and aromatic varieties.

Carignan leaf.Carignan berries are bluish-black, round and fairly large, with fairly thick, astringent skins. They hang in large, rather compact clusters causing them to rot easily and making them susceptible to grape berry moth (worm) infestations. The short stems and compactness of Carignan clusters makes them difficult to harvest, requiring knives or shears. Machine harvesting is impractical because of excessive juicing, defoliation, along with spur and cane damage caused due to the force needed to remove the clusters.

Like Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Grenache, Carignan is a somewhat unstable species, with the tendency to mutate. The French currently recognize and approve over 25 separate clones, although only a half-dozen are available in California.

Carignan mostly produces wines that have high color, acidity, and tannin, without displaying much distinct flavor or personality and with very little unique appeal. Although Carignan can potentially generate generously floral and balanced wine, only a few growers carefully manage vine vigor and limit crop size in order to produce these appealing, interesting, distinctive wines. As with many other varietals, older carignan vines seem to produce wines with generally more character and less brutality.

Thus, Carignan most frequently becomes a wine for blending or, on its own, for inexpensive everyday consumption. The whole cluster fermentation technique of carbonic maceration can somewhat improve its tendency toward harshness. Oak treatments, on the other hand, seem merely to exacerbate the variety's underlying toughness, while adding little to either its complexity or interest.

*Typical Carignan Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors
*Typicity depends upon individual tasting ability and experience and is also affected by terroir and seasonal conditions, as well as viticultural and enological techniques. This list therefore is merely suggestive and neither comprehensive nor exclusive.

Varietal Aromas/Flavors:

Processing Bouquets/Flavors:

Fruit: cherry, strawberry, raspberry

Carbonic Maceration: banana, bubblegum, cotton candy (spun sugar)

Floral: violet, rose petal

Oak (light): vanilla, coconut, sweet wood

Herbal: (atypical) Oak (heavy): smoke, anise, oak, tar

Vegetal: (atypical)

Bottle Age: (consume early)

Jim LaMar

1. L. Peter Christensen, Nick K. Dokoozlian, M. Andrew Walker, James A Wolpert, et all. Wine Grape Varieties in California (University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources Publications: Oakland) 2003

2. Jancis Robinson (ed), Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, (Oxford University Press: London) 2006

3. Charles Sullivan, A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1998

4. Benjamin Lewin, Wine Myths and Reality, (Vendage Press: Dover, DE) 2010

5. Jancis Robinson (ed), Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes, (Oxford University Press: New York) 1996

6. Steven Spurrier & Michel Dovaz, Academie du Vin, Complete Wine Course (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York) 1983

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Page created March 10, 2002; last updated July 25, 2011
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