Wine Consumer

Magazine

Carignane-Wine's Workhorse Grape

WineConsumer, Kenneth Young
03/10/2005

The Carignane grape variety is one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. In fact, it is the most widely planted grape in France, principally in the southern Rhone, Midi, and Languedoc regions.

Carignane probably originated in northern Spain and grows well in warm "Mediterranean" climates. Carignane is a prolific producer of high crop yields, which may account for its world wide popularity.

Wines from Carignane have deep violet and purple color with red-fruit flavors, strong tannic structure, and are usually high in alcohol. These characteristics have made Carignane one of the most accomplished blending wines in the world. It often provides the backbone for the vast quantities of table wine produced by almost every wine making region. When controlled to produce low yields, Carignane can result in a very good, food-friendly table wine.

Carignane came to California not long after the gold rush and by 1880, the grape was planted extensively in northern California and the Central Valley. Carignane was a primary component of "Hearty Burgundy" and Claret bulk wine blends. At one time, there were over 15,000 acres of Carignane vineyards in the state. Over the years however; Carignane has fallen from favor and now less 7,000 acres are planted.

Some of California's oldest Caignane vines are found in Aparicio Vineyards, about six miles east of Sutter Creek on Sutter Ridge. Originally thought to be Zinfandel, about 300 vines were planted in the spring of 1934. These 69 year old vines are head trained and spur pruned, standing over six feet tall.

As wine writer James Halliday has said of the decline of Carignane as California's "workhorse" grape, "it deserves a better fate."