Carignan (Cariñena in Spain) is a black-skinned grape variety, most likely native to the Aragon region of northern Spain (specifically the town of Carinena). The variety goes by a number of distinct names, depending on its precise locality. Very few of these numerous synonyms ever appear on wine labels, either due to appellation labeling laws or because Carignan's key use is as a blending component. The most famous wines in which Carignan plays a role are those from Rioja, where it is known as Mazuelo.
Carignan prefers warm, dry climates when the grape can express high tannins, acid and color. This makes it an excellent addition to red wine blends that have plenty of aroma and flavor, but lack body and depth of color. Carignan is only rarely made as a varietal wine, but the best examples can show characteristics of dark and black fruits, pepper, licorice, and spicy and savory accents.
Carignan is usually grown as bush vines, many of which are very old and require hand harvesting as the vines’ stems are too tough for machines. It is a late-ripening variety that is known to produce high yields if not properly cropped. This was once considered an attractive attribute of the grape, but as this can make it difficult to achieve good flavor concentration, it also led to it falling out of favor.
In France Carignan was the most planted grape variety from the 1960s-2000, but huge vine-pull schemes in the 1980s nearly halved the grape’s total acreage by the turn of the century. Around three-quarters of France’s Carignan is located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, where it is largely produced as Vin de Table.
In Spain the best Carinena wines are found in the acclaimed Priorat region. While the grape originated in Aragon, it is nowadays more widely used in Catalonia. Carinena is not regarded particularly highly in Spain, where it plays second fiddle to Garnacha (Grenache), which itself ranks behind Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of popularity.
Other prominent growing areas are the island of Sardinia where it is known as Carignano. The hot Mediterranean climate is perfect for the old vines planted here and the resulting wine is valued for its richness and spiciness. In California it is spelled Carignane, where it is generally only used in blended wines.
Carignan is very susceptible to powdery mildew and can require extensive spraying to mitigate its vulnerabilities. For this reason, organic Carignan is extremely rare.
Synonyms include: Cariñena, Carignan Noir, Carignane, Carignano, Mazuelo, Gragnano, Pinot Evara, Samso.
Food matches include:
Europe: Sardinian herbed suckling pig (porceddu), peppery Catalan sausage (salchichon de Vic)
Asia: Singaporean black pepper crab
Americas: Spicy meatballs, eggplant lasagne
Africa/Middle East: Baked meatballs (frikkadels)