Originally from Spain, the grape is now widely planted in the south of France and Sardinia, as well as northeastern Spain. Its thick skin and eggplant color has made carignan a useful blending grape, often finding itself in the company of grenache, syrah, mourvedre and sometimes zinfandel.
In part because it is less expensive than other grapes, carignan appeals to younger winemakers, who do not have as much financial wherewithal as existing wineries. There are some very old carignan vineyards in Alexander Valley, Contra Costa County and other regions that render magnificent fruit at a fraction of the price of cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir.
Also, many have gotten tired of the grapes that have been so popular over the last decade, and want to try their hand at something else. Though carignan has been planted for a long time, it does not have the track record of other red wines, which allows a certain creative freedom. Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars helped pave the way with a carbonic carignan in 2009 that caught a lot of attention. Light, refreshing and vivacious, it showed others that carignan does not have to be a heavy and tannic wine.
While Brockway’s rendition has certainly been influential, others have put their own stamp on the grape with wines that show the promise of this old and underappreciated grape. Here are a few examples:
Sandlands Wines Carignan, 2011 (Contra Costa County) Composed of fruit from a dry-farmed, own-rooted vineyard planted in the 1920’s, Sandlands’ carignan has silky berry fruit interspersed with cedar and spice. Suggested Retail: $29
Kivelstadt Cooley Ranch Carignane, Old Wyve’s Tale, 2012 (Alexander Valley) Made from a 140-year-old, dry-farmed vineyard, this is an unassuming yet thoroughly enjoyable wine with cherries, vanilla and a hint of bacon fat. Suggested Retail: $24
Harrington Carignan Lover’s Lane Vineyard, 2012 (Mendocino County) Local vigneron, Bryan Harrington sources his carignan from a Depression-era organic vineyard in Ukiah. It has a bit of weight, but the bright acidity keeps it from feeling fat. With blue fruits, dried leaves, herbs and moderate tannins, it is reminiscent of the best carignans from the Languedoc — Roussillon region of France. No suggested retail price.
Some of these wines can be found at Arlequin Wine Merchants, Acme Fine Wines — St. Helena, Canyon Market, Haight Street Market, Harrington Wines, Northbrae Bottle Ship, Ordinaire Wine Shop and Bar and Rainbow Grocery.
Pamela S. Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched TheVinguard.com, a blog covering a variety of wine-related topics.