Southern French Carignan Revival

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Hiding away in southern French blends, Carignan is often unnoticed by wine drinkers. However, an enthusiastic trend amongst a few growers in southern France, Spain, Chile, California and Israel to produce this variety in all its glory, has captured my imagination. The more I taste this variety, the more I enjoy it – from the fresh zippy bramble wines to wines which are deep, black and velvety – this is a variety well worth looking out for. If you see it bottled as a single variety, the chances are it was made by a true lover of this grape.

An almost finished bottle of Carignan!

An almost finished bottle of Carignan!

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Provençal Carignan

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Following on from the successful Israeli Carignan tasting, I decided to look more closely at Provencal wines made from Carignan.

Until the 1970s, Carignan was one of the main grapes of Provence, blended with Grenache and Cinsault to make classic Provençal red and rosé wines. Grenache provided the fruit and sugar, Cinsault the charm and floral notes, Carignan the tannin and acidity.

However, Carignan’s main claim to fame was its potential for high yields. It was regarded as a poor quality grape – tough, unyielding and lacking in charm, a cash crop. Efforts to raise the quality of wine in Provence led to changes in the appellation regulations in the 1970s and restrictions in planting Carignan. As a result, much of the Carignan vines in Provence date from the 1970s or earlier. Continue reading

A Taste of Carignan

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carignan asting order

Tasting line up at Shulchan Restaurant, Tel Aviv

On a recent visit to Israel, I was invited by David Perlmutter to present a tasting on wines made from Carignan. This is a variety of which I am very fond, but, living in Provence means that, whereas 30 years ago I may have tasted a fair amount of this variety, today it here is rarely available. It is not popular, or is not successful, in rosé wine, now nearing 90% of Provençal wine production. In red wines, the once standard trio of Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault is steadily becoming subservient to the stronger flavours of Mourvedre, Syrah and, to a lesser extent, Cabernet Sauvignon.

So I was very excited by the chance of tasting a few varietal Carignan wines. I was able to discuss the variety’s potential with local winemakers – Assaf Paz, Yotam Sharon, Kobi Arviv and Barak Dahan were all present to present their wines, as well as Adam Montefiore representing Carmel. Carignan is experiencing a small revival in Languedoc and Chile and now it looks like its reputation is growing in Israel.

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