Chile is known for many grape varieties. Carignan is not one of them. Over the past season, I’ve had the opportunity to taste three offerings at trade tastings. I had been pleased with each wine. The flavour profile is distinctly different from other Chilean red wines. The Chilean carignans exhibited aromas of game and animal, purple flowers such as violets and dark savoury fruits. There was a certain rusticity to the wines. And on the palate they weren’t juicy, but more refined and structured. These qualities I would consider more typical of “old world” wines, compared to the more approachable fruit forward and generally agreeable “new world” wines.
Carignan is an old grape variety originating from Spain, though it’s best know for it’s role in the south of France where it is most often used a blending component because of it’s high acid and tannin content. It is rarely used for single varietal wines, and it often blended with softer grape varieties such as grenache and cinsault. Over the last century it has been the most planted grape variety in France, areas of the Meditteranean and California, because of it’s work horse ability to produce high yields for ordinary wine. The sea of mediocre wine produced by carignan has encouraged some growers to rip out the vines in replacement with higher quality varieties. In Chile, the examples I tasted were from single vineyards and very old vines (some close to 100 years old). The estates growing carignan have taken the approach of quality over quantity. These wines are worth seeking out for the wine drinker looking for something “new” and less ordinary.
My excitement for Chilean Carignan was confirmed when Christopher Waters, founder and editor of Vines Magazine and host of the recent Wines of Chile luncheon, chose an example to pair with charred strip steak with salsa verde and king oyster mushrooms. As Chris introduced the wine he noted that Carignan wines bring new life to the Chilean wine scene. They won’t be blockbuster wines that will stand out in the sea of Cab Sauvs and Merlots, but for a niche group of wine buyers and drinkers, these wine tell a new story of interest for those who choose to seek these hard to find wines.
To experience Chilean Carignan, try some of these examples (available through private wine agents in Ontario):
2009 Oveja Negra Single Vineyard Carignan $17.95
2009 Undurraga T.H. Carignan, Maule Valley $29.98