The most widely-planted red wine grape in France is Carignan (sometimes spelled Carignane in the US, a.k.a. Carignano in Italy and Cariñena or Mazeulo in Spain). Planting became widespread in France during the 1960s, when Algeria gained its independence and was no longer an inexpensive source of ripe grapes. Most Carignan is confined to the Languedoc and southeastern France and is gradually being replaced with more distinctive and aromatic varieties.
Carignan buds and ripens quite late, so is not prone to spring frosts, but requires a long season. A vigorous, though not really hardy vine, it is very sensitive to downy mildew and powdery mildew (a.k.a. oidium). Carignan has but a single characteristic to recommend it for planting: high yields. An acre of Carignan may easily produce 10 to 12 tons of grapes.
The berries are bluish-black, round and fairly large, with fairly thick, astringent skins. They hang in large, rather compact clusters that are short-stemmed, difficult to harvest, and susceptible to grape worms. They also rot easily.
Like Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Grenache, Carignan is a somewhat unstable species, with the tendency to mutate. The French recognize and approve over 25 separate clones.
Carignan mostly produces wines that have high color, acidity, and tannin, without displaying much distinct flavor or personality and with very little appeal. Only a few growers carefully manage vine vigor and limit crop size to produce interesting, distinctive wines from this grape. As with many other varietals, older carignan vines seem to produce wines with generally more character and less brutality.
Thus, Carignan 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|
|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; (heavy) oak, smoke, toast, tar, anise, licorice|