This Carignan wine guide is part of our grape variety series.  A series aimed at spotlighting the wine grape varieties of the world.  Learn about Carignan characteristics, taste, food pairings and other facts about this red wine grape variety.

carignan wine

Brambly Carignan vines grow in Languedoc, France at the Carcassonne citadel. Photo by David Norton at Telegraph.co.uk.

What is Carignan Wine?

Carignan (also known as Mazuelo and Cariñena) is a black, red wine grape variety that is grown throughout the world, but is often used as a blending grape variety in noteworthy Spanish wine regions like DOCa Rioja and DOQ Priorat.  Carignan is believed to be native to Aragon, Spain.  However, it wasn’t until it gained notoriety in Algeria hat it began to be exported in bulk to France.  Ultimately, French winemakers in Southern France began to plant their own vineyard plots widely with this variety where it still today thrives.

While Carignan vines are known to produce very large yields, it’s somewhat of a vulnerable wine grape variety in that it can be easily harmed by mildew and rot.  Carignan must be grown in warmer climates for it to mature properly, where it often both buds late and ripens late.  It is a common belief that old vine Carignan tastes much better than young Carignan wine.  Priorat in particular grows and vinifies very fine Carignan from vines that now exceed 80 years of age.

Related: An ideal 3 Week Itinerary for Spain

In the modern day wine world. the Carignan (Mazuelo) grape doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention it deserves, but is used extensively in a multitude of red wine blends, especially from regions like Languedoc-Roussillon.

Carignan wine characteristics

While I was recently in DOQ Priorat, Catalunia, Spain, I was offered the opportunity to sample 80 year old vine Carignan from this beautiful region. As you can see from this photo, Carignan in Priorat grows in slate and schist based soil, which really forces the Carignan grape to work for its nutriment in this terroir. Thus, Carignan here is flavor packed and very complex.

Carignan Wine Taste and Characteristics

Characteristically, Carignan wine in the glass, as it exists in single varietal form (which is somewhat rare), is a richly colored, acidic and tannic wine that some have criticized as being too bitter and rustic.  Because of these known generalities, you’ll be able to find Carignan, Mazuelo and Cariñena more frequently as a blended variety rather than a single varietal wine.  In the glass, carignan is a deep and dark colored wine, with a deep purple hue and often crimson rustic attributes around the edges.  This is especially true for old vine Carignan.

Carignan wine is almost always dry and tends to pack a bigger flavoric punch on the opening palate than on the close.  It tends to have bright acid, gritty tannins, bitter spice and dry herb notes over red and black fruit.  Because of its tannic content, expect to get a nice astringent mouth-feel with this grape.  It works well in central and Northeastern Spain, where warm climates alongside shale and limestone based soil compositions add fine tuned minerality to Carignan varietal wines and blends.  You can expect medium to lengthy finishes, backed by leather saddle, olive, dry forest floor, tobacco and burnt smokey brown sugar notes.

Carignan Wine Grapes Characteristics

Carignan wine grape clusters on the vine. Image courtesy Gourmandbreaks.com.

Detailed Carignan (Mazuelo) Tasting Notes

Common Flavors and Aromas
  • Fruit: Red & Black (Ripe Raspberry, Plum, Cassis, Black Cherry, Fig)
  • Earth & Mineral Notes: Limestone, Shale, Schist, Bramble
  • Additional Complexities: Tobacco, Crisp Brown Sugar, Cacao, Olives, Cracked Red Pepper
Structure
  • Body: Medium
  • Sugar: Dry
  • Tannins: High
  • Acid: High
  • Alcohol: Medium-High (12.0% – 14.0% ABV)
  • Finish: Medium-Long
Terroir
  • Soil: Limestone, Clay, Schist
  • Climate: Warm-Hot
  • Notable Regions: Sierra Foothills, California | Rhone Valley, France |  Languedoc-Roussillon, France | Rioja, Spain | Priorat, Spain
carignan wine

Try making whiskey braised brisket along with sweet potato and egg as an ideal food pairing for Carignan. Image courtesy Seriouseats.com – (click for recipe).

Carignan Food Pairings

Because Carignan (Cariñena) is such a gritty, tannic and acidic wine, your food should be bold in flavor as well. It’s definitely ideal to pair Carignan with any cut of grilled steak, marinated poultry or moist, braised brisket.  Try bringing out some spicy and savory vegetables to go with the meat.  Along the lines of grilled bell pepper, jalapeño, squash and or sweet potato.

Additional sources: Drync, Forgottengrapes.com, Telegraph.co.uk, Wineaccess.com

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