Carignan is the variety most responsible for the fabled 'European Wine Lake'.
It's modern home is the South of France, particularly the Midi, but it seems likely the variety may have originated in the Spanish province of Aragon.
This Spanish origin gives priority to the variety's Spanish name Mazuelo.
Jancis Robinson was once a severe critic of Carignan, and rightly so. The variety was used (misused) to make huge volumes of vin ordinare
But is it the fault of the variety, or of the way it is used? Growers and winemakers saw its characteristics as virtues in making cheap wine, and there was a big market in France for cheap wine back then.
The official name in Spain is Mazuelo, but it is also called Carinena. It is not widely grown in Spain, even though that is where the variety originated.
As Carignano, this variety plays an important role in Sardegna where it is the second most planted red grape after Cannanou (Grenache).
There are small plantings in most warmer wine producing counties, but it is no where dominant.
Carignan wines are now in retreat but some winemakers headed by John Bojanowski of Clos du Gravillas wines in St. Jean de Minervois, Languedoc have started the Carignan Renaissance.
They hope to reverse the trend of ripping out Carignan and replacing it with the ubiquitous Merlot. More strength to their arm I say!
Carignan Renaissance have managed to convince Jancis that it is possible to make decent wine from this variety.
Carignan was once much more popular in Australia. It seems to have had an unannounced role in some of the wine we once called claret, often blended with such varieties as Shiraz, Grenache, Cinsaut and Mourvedre.
I guess a lot of it found its way into flagons and casks as well.
Little of it seems to have survived the vine pulls of the 1980s when there was a glut of ordinary red wine in Australia.
Treated well this variety does make good wine and you might like to try some from the producers mentioned below.
Carignan wines are often characterised by high acidity and tannins, hence they call for richly flavoured, rustic dishes.
Toulouse sausages, cassoulet, Morrocan lamb tagine or grilled pork chops might go well with Carignan dry red wine.
Evan Goldstein in Daring Pairings claims there is an affinity between sweet fortified wines and chocolate (especially dark chocolate) based desserts.
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