Carignane – Fallen From Grace, Back on the Rise?
Carignane (also spelled Carignan) has been an often maligned wine varietal, that has seen a bit of a resurgence recently in some circles. This was a popular varietal in California years ago with 27,000 acres planted in 1970, dwindling each decade to only 3,600 acres reported in 2010. Carignane was popular for jug wines, and blending with Zinfandel to add color, likely because it can be a very high yielding varietal.
It is also susceptible to powdery mildew and other challenges in the vineyard, and in the hands of an inexperienced winemaker can be acidic, tannic, astringent. Combine that with the wine industry’s romance with big extraction, oak, and lack of nuance, and Carignane wasn’t getting much love or quality on any side.
It took some time to reach this state, but I have learned the benefits of pushing my palate, always seeking new things, and not being afraid to try, re-try, and try again. Increased knowledge helps guide exploration, and as the lights go on, bulb by bulb, the path gets less dim, eventually at what seems like an exponential pace. Carignane has been one of those (re) discoveries.
My favorite and beloved wine pusher, er supplier, K&L Wines recently did a blog post on Carignane, but my interest was already re-piqued by a few discoveries, this wine being one of them, which I first had in a Fall trip to Paso Robles, my other wine home.
Amy Butler is the winemaker and proprietor of Ranchero Cellars. Amy was formerly the head winemaker at Edward Sellers, before starting Ranchero. A resident of Paso Robles, the epi-center of Rhone wines in the U.S., she is passionate about Rhone wines, and making them in a style that lets the fruit and the vintage express itself.
Carignane isn’t grown in Paso Robles, so Amy sourced from Redwood Valley vineyard in Mendocino, a low yielding old vine planting, that is labor of love by three generations of the Colombini family. The varietal seems to shine more brightly from the veteran grapevines, not young pups.
Amy also makes an excellent Grenache Blanc, a Viognier and shares a label with another Paso rising star Anthony Yount (Kinero, Denner) called Brouhaha, a low alcohol ‘porch pounder’ priced at only $12.
Ranchero Cellars 2008 Carignan, Old Vines, Mendocino County
On The Nose: Dark berry, red fruit, slight smoky meat
In the Mouth: Rustic, expressive. (Eric Asimov wants two word wine reviews, hows that?) Fun to drink, but complex as well, if you want to pull it apart. Red and black fruits dominate, but a touch of earthiness runs through it. Nice acidity to pair with food, and a pleasing finish. Modest tannins in balance. Drinks wonderfully now, will have to see if I can hold on to my last bottle and see how does with some bottle aging.
Food Pairing: Many. Burger with blue cheese. Ribs. Some pastas with red sauce. A ribeye.
Rating: Outstanding. 90 points.
Recommendation: Buy and drink or hold.