Fri 17 Oct 2014

Carignan Regardless


Living with a wine adviser can be a tortuous and trying existence… or so my partner Lisa tells me.

I am forever sticking a glass under her nose and saying ‘absorb the bouquet on this’ or ‘what are getting from this?’ She always obliges me, occasionally throwing a flippant ‘I can smell wine!!!’

Old carignan vines in the south of France

Old carignan vines in the south of France

However, I have found one way to guarantee a favourable response: to offer her a wine that has a sizeable proportion of the carignan grape.

Originating from Aragon and believed to be named after the ancient town of Cariñena, carignan is a very old grape variety. It was originally planted for its high-yielding, rather than palate-pleasing, attributes. However, it has since seen its coverage half in the last 40 years as a grubbing up programme took full effect. Dismissed by many, the grape has never really had many critical admirers.

For me, however, this much-maligned grape offers dark fruit in abundance backed up with smooth spiciness that cannot only plump up a blend but also carries itself as herb-infused sweet-scented wine, featuring in offerings spanning Chile to Spain, such as Priorat, via some of my favourites from the south of France (such as Monpeyroux and Collioure).

In Spain, carignan contributes to the blend in our popular Latria red (£7.95 per bottle), offering a fragrant meaty style, as well as ‘baby Priorat’ Blau (£8.95).

For a full-on and densely flavoured wine, a good Priorat always fits the bill. Try Cal Pla (£11.50), possibly with a venison casserole. To experience the more aromatic nature of carignan try Tomàs Cusiné’s Mineral del Montsant (£9.95).

Chile offers the bold Undurraga TH Maule Carignan (£12.50) where the grape brings its trademark fruit but also a firmness that makes this particular example great with slow-roasted belly pork.

Carignan wines can make for perfect autumnal drinking

Carignan wines can make for perfect autumnal drinking

In France, the grape helps to produce an uncomplicated quaffable warming red in the form of Domaine de Gournier, Cévennes Rouge 2013 (£6.25). This is soon to be a members’ favourite, I am sure, alongside Duo des Vignes, Vin de France 2013 (£5.95), which sees carignan blended with merlot.

Some current members’ favourites also owe a lot of their appeal to having carignan in their blends, in various proportions too. Domaine Laborie IGP 2013 (£5.75), Minervois, Château Sainte-Eulalie 2013 (£7.50) and Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, Château de Pena 2012 (£6.75) spring to mind, as well as our ever-popular Society’s French Full Red (£5.95).

Each of the above is different in style but share a dark fruit-driven feel with a backbone of spice that makes them at once easy drinking and yet with the ability to compliment any hearty autumnal meal.

For an example of to what heights carignan can achieve when yields are kept low try the elegant Domaine Aupilhac, Le Carignan, Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile 2010 (£16.50) or Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Les Calcinaires Rouge, Domaine Gauby 2012 (£14.50).

So as the leaves fall, the nights close in and the temperature outside drops, raise a glass and carignan regardless.

Conrad Braganza
Cellar Showroom


  1. Tim Lee says:

    Entirely agreed, and I often search a label to see if Carignan is part of the blend. The Wine Society list used to include “Ranquet Lafleur” a Vin de Pays d’Herault which was 100% Carignan Vieilles Vignes. I always thought it much preferable to the Domaine Laborie, and was sad when it no longer appeared. In the hope that it will be reinstated I treasure meanwhile two bottles of the 2010 vintage, but will have to drink them soon!

    • Marcel Orford-Williams says:

      Thank you for your comment. You are not the only one who laments its passing! Fingers crossed for next year…

  2. Stuart Calder says:

    I also love the herb and dark fruit flavours of low yield Carignan, and over the years have enjoyed occasional bottles from different vignerons in the Languedoc, who vinify a small amount of old vine Carignan. Somehow the best ones are sun-baked, terroir-driven wines and manage to retain great freshness. As a result they rarely cause palate fatigue, unlike many of the other over-alcoholic Languedoc reds from Syrah and Grenache. One of my personal favourites comes from the self-styled “vigneron militant” Pierre Cros with his Minervois Vieilles Vignes, which is in fact 100% Carignan. Always worth a visit and putting a few bottles in the boot if you’re in the area.

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