Erin Doman on February 24, 2016 1 Comment A fruit-forward red wine full of raspberry, cranberry and even bacon notes, Carignan is a deep red grape popular in Languedoc, Sardinia and Catalonia. It is even thought that the Phoenicians brought the grape to Sardinia in the 9th Century, though the historical accuracy of this is sometimes contested. One thing for sure is that Carignan has deep roots in French, Italian and Spanish history and is as much a part of those cultures as cassoulet and paella. A Change in Status A very easy-drinking red, Carignan had a reputation for a long time as a low-quality wine. It was frequently used as table wine or in red blends that were consumed as a daily dinner beverage, rather than something to break out on a special occasion. In its most abundant form, it produces a glass many people feel does not have a particularly unique appeal. With special care in both the growing and harvesting stages, the same qualities that have relegated it to “bland” status in the past can elevate it to being terrifically versatile. Luckily, in recent years, it has garnered more attention and more complex bottles have been available for purchase in the United States. When harvested from old vines, the grapes develop a richer palate and the full fruitiness of this wine gets to shine through. People who are seeking a medium-to-bold red to pair with meat dishes, but are slower to warm to the bold tannins of wines like Cabernet Sauvignon will find a perfect fit in Carignan. Foods to Pair With Carignan Because of its well-balanced nature, a good Carignan can stand next to Grenache and Gamay in terms of versatility with food. This is why these wines have cultivated a reputation for being perfect Thanksgiving wines. Few grapes can hold up to the myriad of different dishes that claim a space on the Thanksgiving spread. Both roasted and cured meats bring out the earthy qualities of Carignan. In fact, older bottles may have a distinctive meaty aroma when first opened. Do not be afraid of this oddity. Merely decant the bottle for an hour or so to let the wine breathe. If you come across a bottle with this profile, do not miss the opportunity to pair it with an aged Gouda or a young Manchego cheese. Even a simple farmer’s cheese will sing when paired with this wine. The earthy umami aspects of this grape also make it a perfect candidate to go with most squashes, roasted eggplant and even mushrooms. Branch out of the norm and make a savory onion and mushroom tart to enjoy with a fruity, earthy glass of Carignan. Spices and Herbs Being native to the hot climates of southern Europe, Carignan can pair particularly well with the spice of southern Spain and even the piquant seasonings of Morocco and Algeria. Don’t hesitate to pair it with the following herbs and spices. Cinnamon and Allspice. This is where the Thanksgiving wine reputation comes into play. Cumin and Corriander. A variety of curries benefit from the fruity notes of Carignan. Ras El Hanout and Za’atar. Even Moroccan and Persian spices settle perfectly on the palate when paired with this grape. New Vines vs. Old Vines There is a notable difference in flavor, balance and quality when drinking wine from new versus old vines. Carignan is a perfect example of what can go wrong when producing with quantity over quality in mind. The source for a decades-long reputation for being a cheap, thin wine, vintners in the Langedoc-Roussillon overplanted this highly productive grape, then produced mass quantities of low quality wine with a quick turnaround. The combination of young vines and young wine (wine that has not been allowed to age properly in the bottle) did no favors for the status of this grape. In recent years it seems the region has seen a revival in old vine-sourced and carefully crafted Carignan wines made with a process that pays more attention to detail and quality rather than speed and volume. Taste and Aroma Carignan is typically a fruity wine, with flavors like cranberry, strawberry and raspberry detectable on the palate. The more subtle floral notes contain hints of rose petal and violet. Different methods of processing this wine produce different aromas. For instance, carbonic maceration, in which whole grapes are fermented without the typical crushing method, produces lower tannins and higher fruit notes. Because the tannins are found in the skin, the whole-fruit nature of carbonic maceration does not allow them to be fully released. Due to the yeasts present during this stage, carbonic maceration often produces aromas of banana, bubblegum and even cotton candy. However, if you were to taste Carignan that had been aged in a light oak barrel, you would likely notice vanilla, fragrant sweet wood and even coconut on the nose. Heavy oak would impart even more dramatic scents, such as smoke, anise and even tar. The Future of Carignan Historically one of the most versatile grapes throughout much of southern Europe and northern Africa, Carignan has been around for a very long time, but we are unfortunately seeing less and less of this grape variety, though there are many old vineyards that are being reinvigorated. So why is a grape that was so bland for so long such a popular choice, and why should we keep it around? Carignan is a tough vine. It is a prolific producer that can withstand both Mediterranean and near-desert climates. Highly resistant to drought and only susceptible to a few types of mildew, Carignan produces extremely high yields. Bluish-black berries form very large, tight clusters that can rot if not harvested on time. Still, the ease of growing this grape has carved its place in history and established it as one of the more reliable vines in France and Spain. It may take a little searching and experimentation to find the bottle of Carignan that works for your palate, but once you do, this underrated wine will be your go-to beverage for weeknight meals at home to hosting dinner parties, as a good bottle will settle in well with most palates. Relatively cheap and always easy to drink, Carignan is a great wine to experiment with without breaking the bank.