If you’re like us, you are probably not familiar with the red wine called Carignan, but did you know it was once the most widely planted grape in France as recently as 1988?!? WTF?!? Mostly used as a cheap blending grape in jug wines, Carignan has had a bad reputation, but recently has been making a comeback from vintners making wines from old vines. But, we’ll be honest, we are not so sure about this wine. In this episode, we talk about the recent history of this grape and wine, and we also taste and review three Carignan single varietal wines from around the world - Chile, Sardinia, and France - so we can give you our honest opinion on as broad of a set of wines as we can muster. Let’s just say we strongly suggest you listen to this episode before you decide to jump in. Wines reviewed in this episode: 2019 Gillmore Mariposa Carignan, 2017 Cantina Santadi Carignano del Sulcis Grotta Rossa, and 2018 Domaine Lafage Tessellae Carignan Vieilles Vignes.
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Episode 48: WTF is Carignan? (A controversial red wine that is growing in reputation and popularity) 00:00
Hello! And welcome to The Wine Pair Podcast. I’m Joe, your sommelier of reasonably priced wine, and this is my wife and my wine pairing partner in crime, Carmela. And we are The Wine Pair!
Ok, a quick orientation for those of you who may be new to the podcast - in each episode we learn about, and taste and review three wines that are reasonably priced - meaning under $20 - and are, or should be, easy for you to find. And, our reviews are 100% honest and 100% real and we use everyday words when we taste wine that you can understand what the hell we are talking about, and we are not paid or sponsored by anyone, and we buy all of our own wine so there’s that! And, we are officially recommended by Decanter magazine in their October 2022 issue, and they describe our Podcast as fun, irreverent, chatty, and entertaining.
This week, Carmela, we are once again returning to the much beloved WTF series, also known as the what the fuuuuccccckkkk series, which is appropriately named and especially true for this episode, because it is a series where we learn about and taste and review a wine that you out there in listening land may not know, and that we are kind of wondering about ourselves, and want to learn about and taste and try. So, this week we are talking about a wine varietal called Carignan (care-ee-yen). Uncomfortable pause. Exactly. What the F is that?!? We bet that most of you out there have no idea what this wine is. Do you know what wine it is? Well, we are going to find out!
Here are some really interesting facts about Carignan that I got from the interwebs. According to an article written by wine critic Jancis Robinson, Carignan is a grape that people have strong feelings about - and many of those strong feelings are not very good. What is also interesting is that Carignan was the MOST common wine varietal in France (which is one of the largest and most important wine grape growing regions in the world). It was also one of the more commonly grown wine grapes in other parts of the world. In fact, at one point it was the third most planted wine grape in California.
I find that really fascinating because I had not even heard of this wine or grape until recently, but I think we all know commonly grown wine grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon! One of the reasons for this is probably in large part because this wine was used in blends.
Carignan is also a wine grape that has had a bad reputation as a low quality, rough, and highly tannic grape - although that is quickly changing, which we will talk about. In fact, the NY Times called the grape “screechy, tannic, and high in alcohol” which doesn’t sound much like a wine you really want to drink. So, why would a wine grape with a bad reputation be so widely grown? Any ideas?
Well, Carignan is said to be a grape that grows easily in warm climates and produces a ton of fruit. In fact, it evidently produces about four times more grapes per plant than Cabernet Sauvignon - which is today the first or second most planted wine grape in the world. So it was (and still is) used very widely as a blending grape for cheap wines - think about those crappy box and jug wines. It is a good bet that if you have had some of those crappy wines, or maybe a red wine in church, that it was at least partly made with Carignan. And it was also a wine grape used to make home wines because it is so easy to grow.
But, again, things have evidently been changing, and Carignan is growing in popularity and reputation, so we’ll learn a little bit more about this misunderstood and maligned wine and wine grape, and we have three Carignan wines from around the world - one from France, one from Italy, specifically the island of Sardinia, and Chile - that we are going to taste and rate. And we have actually chilled them just a bit because evidently these are wines that can be served slightly cool . . .
But first . . . we have to do our shameless plug, right Carmela? If you are enjoying our podcast so far, and who wouldn’t be, we would love for you to subscribe to our podcast so you never have to miss a single episode, and we would also love it if you would leave us a rating and review so people who stumble on our podcast will think - hey, maybe I should listen to this!
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And, as we do every week, we’ll tell you someone we think you should tell about The Wine Pair Podcast, and this week we would like you to tell anyone you think is misunderstood or who has improved their bad reputation for the better. Like our grape and wine Carignan. Do you know anyone like that?
ARTICLES AND LINKS
Topic: What is Carignan? 10:05
So let’s get back to Carignan and dig into why did this wine grape, which was one of the most widely planted in the world, start to be less and less popular, and what has led to its resurgence you ask. What do you say? Let’s find out. Again, I got a lot of information on Carignan from an online article by the wine critic Jancis Robinson, and there is a link to it in our show notes which you can find if you come to our website.
First, I will say that this wine grape has like a million names - in fact, in Spanish alone it has a ton of names - so that probably doesn’t help things much. Really quickly, here are some names it goes by:
- In Spanish it is known as Cariñena, Cariñano, Mazuelo, Tinto Mazuelo, Crujillon, and sometimes Samsó
- In California they spell it with an “e” at the end: Carignane.
- In Italy it is known as Gragnano while in Sardinia it is known as Bovale Grande and Carignano.
- In Portugal it is known as Pinot Evara
- Other French names include Carignan noir, Bois Dur, Catalan, Roussillonen, Monestel, and Plant de Lédenon.
So, that alone makes figuring out this grape and the wines made from it really difficult. Thankfully, it seems that the resurgence of this wine has led to it being known pretty widely as a derivation of Carignan rather than some of those rando names.
Here is an interesting story about what happened to poor old Carignan - as recently as 1988, it was the most widely planted grape in France, by a lot. In that same year, the European Union decided it needed to improve the quality of wine being produced in Europe - we have talked about this in other episodes, but there was a ton of crappy wine being sold in the US from Italy and France and other European countries in the 50’s through the 80’s.
So, guess what they did to make it so there was less Carignan being grown?!? How would stop someone from doing something that made them money?!? They literally paid people who owned vineyards cash to pull up their Carignan vines and plant higher quality wine grapes. By 2000, French production of the wine grape had been cut in half.
It’s no wonder that the grape had a bad reputation and that a lot of us really don’t know much about it anymore. First, they used Carignan to make crappy wines, and then they paid people to stop growing it, so why would anyone bother growing it or making wines from it?
Here’s what’s interesting. Because people were being paid to pull out their Carignan vines, they were also not planting new ones. So, what does that mean for the Carignan vines that are still out there? The Carignan vines that are still out there are generally old vines, and evidently old vine Carignan make the best Carignan wine. WHO KNEW!?!?
Fun side note, Carmela. The best place to grow high quality Carignan grapes is evidently Sardinia Italy - where it grows in a hot and dry area of the island. We do have a wine from Sardinia that we are going to try today. That is sort of a fun fact. We need to go to Sardinia!
And, according to the NY Times and other sources, there are some very good wines now being produced from this controversial and once lowly wine grape.
Again, carignan is supposed to be a red wine that you can drink slightly chilled - slightly doesn't mean refrigerator cold, but more like somewhere between refrigerator and room temperature. What we did today is we chilled them in the fridge for about 45 minutes before we started recording.
Carignan is also supposed to be good with smoky meats, and with holiday foods and meals like Thanksgiving and December Holidays like Christmas because it does well with cinnamon-spiced foods and berry sauces.
So, depending on how we feel about it today, we may have to bring it back for our Thanksgiving episode (yes we are going to do a Thanksgiving episode, a Halloween episode, Christmas and Hanukkah episodes and more over the next several weeks and months). How ‘bout that?!? Did you know we were going to do all of those fun episodes?!?
Well, I am really interested in trying these wines and seeing what we think about this strange grape, so let’s talk a little bit about the wines we chose for this episode.
ARTICLES AND LINKS
A review of the Carignan wines we chose for this episode 16:48
As I mentioned, we have Carignan wines from several different countries that we are going to be trying today. And I know that all of these are relatively easy to find because we bought them all on wine.com, so that at the very least means you should be able to find them if you go online and they ship to where you live!
The first Carignan is from Chile, a place we have not talked about too much yet in terms of wines, but we will be doing more Chilean wines over the next several weeks.
The wine we chose is called Gillmore Mariposa Carignan, and it comes from the Maule Valley in Chile. Chile, as many of you know, is a long, thin country along the west coast of South American, sometimes described as looking like it is shaped like a chili pepper.
The Maule Valley is about halfway down the country, which is also the coast, not too far from Santiago, and not too too far from Mendoza Argentina which is, again, and area which produces a ton of Malbec. Maule valley is one of the main wine grape growing and producing regions in Chile, and is really more known for making powerful Cabernet Sauvignons and Carménère wines. In fact, while Carignan grapes are grown there, there is really not a lot of it grown compared to other wine grapes that grow in the area.
According to Wikipedia, the Carignan vines they are using are 70 years old, so definitely old vines, and they are said to make wines that are soft and earthy with rich dark fruit flavors. This wine is supposed to have a balance of firm tannins and juicy acidity. But we will be the judges of that!
The winemaker, again called Gillmore, say that they dry farm their grapes, and I had no clue what that meant. Any ideas? I read an article from Wine Spectator to find out. What it means is that the winemaker only relies on rain, not irrigation, to water the grape vines, and evidently this is an ancient technique that is environmentally friendly, and some say that it creates grapes with more intensity.
This wine got a 90 rating from Wine Enthusiast, for whatever that is worth, but, again, we will be the judge of that!
Our next wine is from Sardinia, Italy, which again is a large island off the coast of Italy sort of between Spain and Italy and just above Tunisia, Africa, and this wine is called Cantina Santadi Carignano del Sulcis Grotta Rossa.
Again, Sardinia is supposed to be making some of the best Carignan wines. This wine producer is located on the very southern part of the island, and basically on a small island off of the island. Carignano del Sulcis, where the wine is from, is a DOC region - again, that means that wines from the area are labeled by the government to be authentic and from that area.
Santadi, the wine producer, is a collective of grape growers that work together to create the wine. This wine is not finished in oak, but rather is fermented using a technique called Malolactic fermentation which is supposed to mellow wines like Cargninan that needs mellowing and make them a little rounder feeling in the mouth and buttery, and then the wine sits for a few months in cement vats before they bottle it. Lots of new information we are sharing in this episode, and some of these things, like Malolactic fermentation, we can talk about more in future episodes.
But because it is mellowed out a bit, and because it is not oaked, this may be one of those red wines that does well when chilled. But again, we’ll see what we think!
Our last wine is called Domaine Lafage Tessellae Carignan Vieilles Vignes and it comes from Roussillon, France. Vielles Vignes means “old vines” in French, and so we are keeping with the tradition of Carginan made from old vines.
This wine is from the Côtes du Roussillon area of Southern France. Again from a warm climate where Carignan grapes are supposed to do best, this area of France is close to the border with Spain on the Barcelona side of Spain on the Mediterranean. So, it’s warm.
Again, these wines are made from vines that are 70 years old or more. I was able to find a description of the wine that said it is aged 4 months in concrete tanks, so there is no mention of oak, which makes sense because a lot of the reviewers were saying that this wine should be drunk young. This wine is a vegan wine - which you can learn more about in Episode 41 which is all about vegan wines - and the winemaker claims to be an organic farmer. How about that shit?
So, this will be super interesting. We have wines from all over the world, all from old vines, and we have chilled the wine a little bit, so we are going to see if this maligned wine is worthy of you spending your time trying to find.
Are you ready to try them?
ARTICLES AND LINKS
Carignan wine pairing and tasting and review 24:22
Wine: Gillmore Mariposa Carignan
Region: Chile, Maule Valley
Producer: Gillmore winery
Professional Rating: WE 90
What we tasted and smelled in this Carignan: Blackberry, raspberry, tartness, smoke, tar, berries, tangy, harsh, tastes like jug wine, bitterness on the aftertaste, gasoline, very little body, no complexity, very high tannin. Very tart under ripe raspberry.
Food to pair with this Carignan: Something to mask the taste like a big steak.
As a reminder on our rating scale, we rate on a scale of 1-10 and there are no half points, where 7 and above means that we would buy it, and 4 and below means that we are likely to pour it down the sink, and in-between we are likely to drink it and finish it, but we are probably not going to buy it.
Wine: Cantina Santadi Carignano del Sulcis Grotta Rossa
Region: Italy, Sardinia
Producer: Cantina Santadi
What we tasted and smelled in this Carignan: earthy, wet dirt, clay, green wood, evil ork forest, meat, almost no fruit, hot, sulfur, gasoline, old church wine, rotten wood, salami. Screechy. Tastes like beef and cheese sticks. Offensive.
Food to pair with this Carignan: Underwear and a pair of socks.
Wine: Domaine Lafage Tessellae Carignan Vieilles Vignes
Region: France, Roussillon
Producer: Domaine Lafage
Professional Rating: JD 90
What we tasted and smelled in this Carignan: Raspberry, raspberry licorice, smoky, pomegranate, juicy, fresh pine forest, tart, tons of tannin, not complex one note wine. Like a fruit-forward California wine with ton of tannin.
Food to pair with this Carignan: Burgers, sandwich, French Dip, Italian sub sandwich with red wine vinegar, steak salad, cheap pan pizza from Pizza Hut or other crappy pizza with a lot of bread.
Which one of these are you finishing tonight?
Joe: Domaine Lafage Tessellae Carignan Vieilles Vignes
What is your impression of Carignan?
Can’t really recommend it. Don’t think we’ll drink it again.
Taste profiles expected from Carignan: 46:09
- Carignan taste profile
- Dried cranberry, raspberry, tobacco leaf, baking spices, cured meat
- Gillmore descriptions
- Earth, bay leaf and mint tones
- From WE: Slightly gritty blackberry and licorice aromas lead to a tight and grabby palate. Tastes of dark plum and blackberry, while notes of herbs and chocolate add some complexity to a rubbing, tannic finish.
- The Cantadi winemaker says this about their wine
- A charming and fruit-forward wine, with earthy, peppery notes, good structure, and a food-friendly style.
- Reviews of the Domaine Lafage
- spicy, complex style that carries vivid red and blue fruits, leather, licorice, tree bark, and peppery herbs aromas and flavors. Medium-bodied, solid purity of fruit, silky tannins, and a good finish. Enjoy this plump, pleasure-bent effort over the coming 3-4 years.
- Medium to full-bodied, with copious amounts of spice and cherry fruit. Silky in texture and bright in acidity, with a crisp, fruit-forward finish.
Outro and how to find The Wine Pair Podcast 48:36
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