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Carignan

Hailing from Spain, carignan may yet find a more significant home in Australia, with retaining acidity very well and thriving in hot and dry conditions – a combination that we don’t lack for.

Also known as

Wine drinkers are most likely to come across the Spanish synonyms for carignan: cariñena and carinyena. The grape is also called samsó in Catalonia, but then cinsault is also known as samsó in Spain, with the words certainly bearing a closer resemblance to each other. It has also been identified as the same grape known as mazuelo in Rioja. Carignan is known as carignano in Italy, where it’s almost only planted in Sardinia, and in the US they have added a vowel, making it carignane.

What carignan tastes like

Carignan can be a decidedly rugged grape, with dark fruit and spices often allied with gruff and very assertive tannins and high acidity. The wines can also have wild herbal almost animal notes, but carignan is mostly used in blends, so this adds complexity to the best wines.

Vineyard & winemaking

Carignan is a warm-climate grape, ripening late and requiring dry conditions to stave off the diseases that it is susceptible to. It’s a grape that produces no lack of tannin and acid and can be very savoury, so some producers use carbonic maceration methods to bring out bright fruit flavours and tame the structure a little. Carignan is also often blended, which also helps to iron out carignan’s roughness.

Where is carignan grown?

Cariñena in Aragon, Spain, is seen as the birthplace of carignan, but the grape found its more permanent home a little further east in Catalonia, as well as having increasing value in Priorat. It’s primary home, though, is a bit further north in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon, where it is the most planted variety, though it is not commonly bottled solo, teaming up with grenache, mourvèdre, syrah and cinsault, as well as merlot and cabernet sauvignon. While carignan is mandated in many of the red blends in the Languedoc, plantings are on the decline, with the variety neither easy in the vineyard or winery. There are celebrated pure carignan expressions, too, mainly coming from significantly old vines. And though the grape may be in decline to some degree, the slightly wild qualities of carignan are very much a part of the Languedoc’s wine identity and uniqueness.

Carignan around the world

The variety’s ability to handle hot conditions has seen carignan planted successfully in North Africa, and it has a solid presence in Israel. It is also grown on the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Cyprus, as well as in Turkey. In the US, carignan is planted as more of a workhorse grape in the hotter Central Valley, with much of it going to simpler expressions. It is also notably made by the iconic Ridge Vineyards from vines planted in the 1940s in the Alexander Valley.

Carignan in Australia

Carignan was thought to have a long history in this country, though it seems much of what we thought was carignan was in fact not. Some of the plantings have since been identified as bonverdo, an Iberian grape. Nonetheless, carignan is present in some warmer zones of Australia, albeit in small quantities, with many vines no doubt being abandoned, replanted or grafted over time. Most of the vines are in South Australia. It is uncommon to see a straight Australian carignan, although Tomfoolery make an old-vine expression and both Hither & Yon and Kimbolton make snappy, early drinking versions.

Some of the best Australian carignan

Amato Vino (blend)
Bondar Wines (blend)
Dune (blend)
Elderton (blend)
Hither & Yon
Kimbolton
Seppeltsfield (blend)
Shobbrook
Smallfry Wines
Somos (blend)
Spinifex (blend)
Tomfoolery
Yangarra Estate (blend)