Carignan looks perfect on paper. Late buds offer protection from spring frosts, while late ripening allows for a long maturation period. That means grapes that exhibit their most ideal characteristics—medium tannins, fresh acidity, red fruit tones and earthy spice—are way more possible. High yields and susceptibility to mildew and rot, however, have led to a past glut of mediocre bottles.
Researchers link Carignan’s origin to 15th-century Cariñena in Aragon, Spain, and it was introduced to Sardinia sometime before the 18th century. But it’s best known as a workhorse and a key component of red-wine blends in Southern France, especially those from Languedoc-Roussillon.
These days, thanks to better vineyard management and lower-yielding old vines, varietal Carignan wines from all over the world tempt with tart red-fruit notes, baking spices and savory smokiness.
The Mendocino American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) of Redwood Valley, Potter Valley and Eagle Peak are best suited for Carignan. Their old vines, combined with warm summers and autumns, mean long hang time, phenolic (tannin) ripeness, balanced acidity, soft tannins and blue fruit notes, says Bob Blue, winemaker at 1000 Stories Wines in Hopland, California, which produces the acclaimed Batch Blue Carignan. “The wine fairly pops with fresh fruit,” he says. “It can still be a bit racy as reds go, [but] it’s an exciting varietal [wine].”
There are now 16 member wineries of Vignadores de Carignan (VIGNO), Chile’s first official appellation association, centered around old-vine, dry-farmed vines in Maule. The long ripening season there allows for full-bodied, robust Carignan-based wines with cherry notes, ripe tannins and restrained acidity. The bottlings draw comparisons to Priorat, says Felipe García of winery P.S. García. “A perfect balance of structure and soft tannins.”
After Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan accounts for the second-highest number of red grape plantings in Mexico. It’s grown mostly in the Valle de Guadalupe region of Baja Peninsula, where the Mediterranean climate and Northern Rhône-like granite and alluvial soils result in highly structured, powerful and jammy wines.
Though still a minor player here, Carignan makes up a smattering of plantings, probably holdovers from cooperative days. It’s found mainly in Dalmatia, a narrow belt on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. “These vines are likely scattered in field blend plantings,” says Cliff Rames, founder of the blog Wines of Croatia.