Carignan (also known as Mazuelo, Bovale Grande, Cariñena, Carinyena, Samsó, Carignane, and Carignano) is a red grape variety of Spanish origin that is more commonly found in French wine but is widely planted throughout the western Mediterranean and around the globe. Along with Aramon, it was considered one of the main grapes responsible for France’s wine lake and was a substantial producer in jug wine production in California’s Central Valley but in recent years, it has been reborn as a flagship wine for many cellars in the south of France as well as in Catalonia.
Ampelographers believe that the grape likely originated in Cariñena, Aragon and was later transplanted to Sardinia, elsewhere in Italy, France, Algeria, and much of the New World. The variety was historically a component of Rioja’s red wine blend. The grape’s prominence in France hit a high point in 1988 when it accounted for 167,000 hectares (410,000 acres) and was France’s most widely planted grape variety. That year, in a drive to increase the overall quality of European wine and to reduce the growing wine lake phenomenon, the European Union started an aggressive vine pull scheme where vineyard owners were offered cash subsidies in exchange for pulling up their vines. Out of all the French wine varieties, Carignan was the most widely affected dropping by 2000 to 95,700 ha (236,000 acres) and being surpassed by Merlot as the most widely planted grape.
The popularity of Carignan was largely tied to its ability to produce very large yields in the range of 200 hl/ha (11 tons/acre). The vine does face significant viticultural hazards with significant sensitivity to several viticultural hazards including rot, powdery mildew, downy mildew, and grape worms. Carignan is a late budding and ripening grape which requires a warm climate in order to achieve full physiological ripeness. The vine also develops very thick stalk around the grape clusters which makes mechanical harvesting difficult. It has an upright growth habit and can be grown without a trellis.
Carignan was likely introduced to Sardinia sometime between 1323-1720 when the island was under the Spanish influence of the Crown of Aragon. Here the grape developed in isolation to form distinct clones under the synonyms Bovale di Spagna and Bovale Grande. At some point the grape reached Algeria where it became a high yielding “workhorse” variety that was widely exported to France to add color and weight to French wine blends. After the phylloxera epidemic devastated French vineyards in the mid to late 19th century, plantings of Carignan grew in popularity on the French mainland.
Carignan is a late budding and late ripening variety that is often one of the last grapes to be harvested during a vintage. The vine is very vigorous and high yielding, able to easily produce 200 hectoliters/hectare (approximately 10.4 tons/acres), if not kept in check by winter pruning or green harvesting during the growing season. The late ripening nature of the grape means that it rarely achieves full ripeness unless planted in vineyard soils in very warm climates such as the Mediterranean climates where the grape originated in or the hot Central Valley of California.
Carignan’s tendency to produce short shoots with clusters that grow closely to the trunk of the vine means that it is difficult variety to harvest mechanically. However, the economy of scale for blending varieties or grapes destined for lower priced box and jug wines often do not work well with the expense and labor cost of hand-harvesting. Among the viticultural hazards that Carignan is susceptible to include powdery mildew and infestation of the vine from grape worms and the European Grapevine Moth. The vine has some slight resistance to the fungal disease of botrytis bunch rot, downy mildew, and phomopsis.
In winemaking, the grape is often used as a deep coloring component in blends, rather than being made in a varietal form with some exceptions. Carignan can be a difficult variety for winemakers to work due to its naturally high acidity, tannins, and astringency which requires a lot of skill to produce a wine of finesse and elegance. Some winemakers have experimented with carbonic maceration and adding small amounts of Cinsault and Grenache with some positive results. Syrah and Grenache are considered its best blending partners being capable of yielding a softer wine with rustic fruit and perfume. In California, Ridge Vineyards has found some success with a varietal wine made from Carignan vines that were planted in the 1880s.
Carignan is most widely found in southern France, particularly in the Languedoc wine regions of Aude, Gard, and Hérault where it is often made as Vin ordinaire and in some Vin de pays wines. In the late 1990s, there were over 60,000 hectares (150,000 acres) of the grape planted in the Aude and Hérault departments alone but by 2009 the total plantings of Carignan throughout France had dropped to 53,155 hectares (131,350 acres). While plantings of the grape in France were more than 9 times higher than the next major Carignan producing country (Spain), this drop in plantings is indicative of the global trend of decline in “workhorse varieties” like Carignan in favor of what the European Union designates as “improving varieties” such as Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah.
Carignan is primarily known as a dry, fruity, medium-bodied red wine with high tannins and pronounced acidity. It’s most commonly blended with other grapes – most famously Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah. The most dominant flavors in Carignan are undoubtably cranberries and raspberries. Along with the red berry flavors, there are strong notes of licorice and baking spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. Finally, to a lesser extent, there is a notable taste of cured and salted meats.
Production area in 2018: 32 700 ha (80 803 acres)