What was once a French grape used mostly in low-quality blends has come of age as its vineyards have aged producing a delicious wine that now stands on its own yet is also very affordable.
While Carignan (pronounced “care-in-yen”) is still a major blending grape in Southern France near the Spanish border, winemakers have taken a shine to this hearty grape as vines have matured ensuring a surge in popularity.
Carignan is a medium-bodied dry red wine that also grows in Northern Spain where it’s commonly called Cariñena or Mazuelo. It also grows in Sardinia (Italy) where it’s labelled as Carignano del Sulcis.
Carignan might not get the accolades of its more famous ̶ more expensive ̶ cousins, but it’s worth discovering.
So fasten your seat belts and let’s dive in to learn everything you never knew you needed to know about Carignan wine, including how it’s made, how it compares to other types of wine, and how to best enjoy it with food pairing.
How Is Carignan Wine Made?
Carignan is commonly grown along the Mediterranean coast. The grapes prefer warm climates and are also cultivated around the world from Algeria and Australia to Chile and California.
Today winemakers are giving Carignan grapes the respect they deserve — particularly those grown on old vines. These older grapes are more delicate (they’re susceptible to powdery mildew and rot) and don’t grow so abundantly as they age. As a result, these old-vine Carignan grapes produce wine with a richer taste and smoother finish.
Like all wines, once Carignan is harvested, the grapes are pressed and then fermented. Depending on the winemaker, fermentation may take place in oak barrels, steel vats, or even amphoras, clay vessels in use for centuries since Roman times.
What Does Carignan Wine Taste Like?
Carignan is said to be a fruit-forward red wine with red fruit and baking spice flavours, together with subtle notes of umami, making it the perfect food wine. Its dominant flavours are dried cranberry, raspberry, liquorice, baking spices, and cured meat (the umami).
Carignan has a balanced flavour profile with no bitter tannins, so it’s good for wine lovers who don’t like bitter wines more full-bodied wines. This quality enhances the wine’s tendency to act more like an ingredient when paired with food.
The wine adds the following flavours when paired:
- the red-fruit flavours of raspberry and cranberry sauce
- spice flavours of cinnamon and star anise
- the umami flavours of smoked and cured meats
- Carignan (aged with a touch of oak) also adds flavours of sandalwood and baking spices.
If all these flavours sound a bit much and confusing for the palate, relax. Food pairings, temperature and letting your wine breathe help it all to come together.
How To Drink Carignan Wine
Now that we’ve discovered Carignan, it’s time to taste it. Sit back and note these handy tips for getting the most out of your bottle.
Temperature is important. Red wines like Carignan shouldn’t be served at room temperature. Serving some red wines too warm may create a bitter and overly alcoholic taste, leaving a burning sensation that is unpleasant.
For best results, serve this lovely red wine at around 15° C. Chill your bottle in the fridge for about 30 minutes, then open the bottle and let it breathe for 10 minutes. You may wish to decant if you’re that way inclined. This will help to release Carignan’s aromas and enhance its flavours before drinking.
And oh yes, the wine glass is equally important. Science has shown that the type of glass you use affects the way you perceive the flavour and fragrance of wine. Use a standard red wine glass.
Carignan offers a pleasing combination of fruit-forward flavours and a delicate salty umami quality when it comes to taste and aromas. The wine is rich, balanced and extremely quaffable for everyday enjoyment.
Now that we have learnt to drink Carignan, let’s turn to the magic of pairing it with food.
What Food To Pair With Carignan Wine?
So why do we call Carignan a brilliant food wine. One of the reasons is because it has strong umami qualities.
The cranberry and umami notes of Carignan go well with rich poultry like turkey and duck. It’s also rich enough to be enjoyed with red meat. The umami notes also pair well with salami and other cured meats.
The herbal qualities of Carignan are best suited to squashes and pumpkin, especially if they are cooked in baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Other hearty and robust vegetable flavours include eggplant, leek, and bell peppers.
With cheeses, Carignan goes very well with milder cheeses such as a good Gouda.
It’s important to remember to expand or play with Carignan’s natural spice flavourings. Some swear by its magical alchemy. Here’s a handy checklist to bear in mind.
- Meats: Roast Turkey (dark meat), Duck, Quail, Squab, Chicken, Roasted Pork Shoulder, Beef Brisket, Lamb Gyros, Cured Meats (Coppa, Bacon)
- Cheeses: Gouda and aged Gouda, Parmesan, Basque Cheese, Farmer’s Cheese, Yoghurt
- Herbs/Spices: Cinnamon, Clove, 5-Spice Powder, Allspice, Cumin, Coriander, Dill, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Red Pepper Flake, Soy Sauce, Ras El Hanout, Madras Curry, Za’atar
- Vegetables: Butternut Squash, Pumpkin, Tomato, Eggplant, Roasted Red Pepper, Garlic, Shallot, Grilled Onion, Roasted Leek, Wild Rice, Dried Cranberry, Shiitake Mushroom.
On the dessert side of a meal, Carignan goes beautifully with dark chocolate. Or bring out its fruity flavours with complimentary desserts such as fruit pies, raspberry parfait, or just good-old fresh berries. On the spicier side, enhance the wine’s spiced notes by pairing it with sweet or savoury foods with a hint of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, or allspice.
Is Carignan Wine Expensive?
The simple answer is no! You can get a very decent bottle of Carignan for just over £10. The wine is easily available online at Frazier’s Wine Merchants and Winesearcher is always good for comparing prices.
Let’s end with an interesting argument some wine watchers are making regarding Carignan’s bright future. They see climate change playing a big role in the grape’s future success, as it’s resilient and can withstand extreme weather conditions, such as droughts and heatwaves.
And that’s a comforting thought, given Carignan’s great qualities.