Soft, palate-caressing wines, with notes of red cherry and nutmeg
The Carignan grape suffers from the curse of high yields. Until recently the most widely planted red-wine grape in France, Carignan comes from vines that can produce as much as 11 tons of fruit per acre. These high yields mean that there's plenty of wine to go around; often more than the market can handle. This lack of interest is exacerbated by the tendency of high-yielding vines to grow poorly concentrated fruit, especially in the absence of devoted efforts at pruning in the vineyard.
Certainly, there is fine justification for the efforts, sponsored by the European Union, to pull Carignan vines from vineyards in France in the last decade. The surplus of wine was undeniable. Much of this wine had little to recommend it. But when produced from very old vines that are carefully tended, Carignan can help craft characterful and concentrated wines. The best examples of this grape come from the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation in southern France. Even here, Carignan is rarely used to make single varietal wines, as AOC regulations require that it be blended with other grapes. Consequently, it is generally mixed with Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache. Other appellations in southern France, including Costieres de Nîmes, Corbieres and Minervois, also produce interesting, and reasonably priced blends incorporating the Carignan grape.
For single-varietal expressions of Carignan, look to Sardinia. Here, the grape yields palate-caressing wines with aromas and flavors of red cherry and nutmeg. Again, the success of the grape is highly dependent on the wine-maker, but with the proper care, these wines can be quite interesting. Look to wines from Santadi, arguably the best cooperative on the island.
Some California producers have also begun making single-varietal bottlings of Carignan from old vines. Look to Ridge Vineyards and Bonny Doon for reliable examples.