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Carignane – I just can’t carry on, or can I?

Who was asking me where to find Carignane (care-i-nya-on) in class last week?

When I worked for Randall Graham of Bonny Doon Vineyards , several Carignane wines came and went (mostly through the DEWN wine club.)  A particular favorite was “The Ugly Duckling”, eluding to the lowly status but definite potential of Carignane.

This article Carignane gets a shot at respect gives some insight as to why this is such a difficult grape to grow and vinify successfully …

At the end of the article there are some of the better (if few) producers  listed.  Carignane is a difficult varietal wine to find in the Los Angeles market – you typically have to search the ubiquitous “other red” category and check out numerous back labels.  I found the much-lauded Lioco “Indica” at The Wine House, although you wouldn’t know that it was made with Carignane by just looking at the label.

The yield of Carignane must be drastically curbed in order to concentrate the fruit flavors.  Old vines often give the best quality fruit because the vine naturally regulates its yield as it gets older.  In the cellar, Carignane has the double whammy of high acid and high tannins – this can make for a very unpleasant combination in wine – thus the need for ripe, concentrated fruit and a gentle extraction.

Carignane is mostly thought of as a “blending grape” because it gives structure to wines made from grapes that are fruitier and lacking in backbone.  It is often blended with Zinfandel (as a CA field blend) or Grenache (as a Rhone-style blend.)  In south of France some great success has been seen with using carbonic maceration for part of the fermentation – this extracts fewer tannins and brings up the high notes of the fruit.

Carignane … I just can’t carry on anymore!