Alain Grignon Carignan Vieilles Vignes, IGP Pays de l’Herault, France 2021 (£8.99, or £6.99 as part of a six-bottle mixed case, maestoso.co.uk) In recent years the old vineyards have become something of a cause célèbre in the wine industry. It’s partly a matter of conservation: older plants, some of which are around 100 years old or more, are an important part of the wine’s heritage. They are also more efficient when it comes to water, or rather, the absence of it (increasingly useful as the climate crisis brings more frequent and severe droughts to many parts of the wine world). Fortunately, in many cases there is also a quality aspect: more often than not, the old vines provide more concentrated but more balanced fruit than the younger vines, albeit in much smaller quantities. Also, curiously, age seems to have a positive effect on even the most unfashionable vines. Older versions of carignan, for example, such as Alain Grignon’s vividly juicy blackberry version, show a completely different side to this oft-mocked red Mediterranean grape.
Viña Bisquertt Crazy Rows Carignan, Maule Valley, Chile 2020 (£7.90, revl.co.uk) Carignan was the most widely planted grape variety in France until the end of the 20th century, although its popularity in the Midi had more to do with fruitfulness (it was capable of enormous yields in the southern sun) than with quality (young vines tended lead to wines with appalling tannins and acidity and very little in the way of fruit flavor). In recent years many carignans have been uprooted in Languedoc-Roussillon, while at the same time growers have learned to treasure the older vines (in the case of Alain Grignon, which is 50 to 100 years old). Something very similar happened in Chile’s Maule Valley, and today the heirloom-grape carignan is responsible for some of the country’s most delightfully individualistic wines, like the muscular succulence and splash of fresh black fruit and licorice in Viña’s Crazy Rows Bisquertt, the quality earthy herb and berry of Viña Morande Adventure Vigno Carignan 2019 (£18.79, allaboutwine.co.uk); and the massive intensity of Torres Vigno Carignan 2016 (£13.99, Waitrose).
Cal Batllet 5 Partides, Gratallops, Priorat, Spain 2016 (£59.95, alliancewine.com) Back in the Mediterranean, a path marked by the gratifying ancient vine carignan can be carved across the southern fringes of France and through the Pyrenees to Catalonia in northern Spain, starting with the bloody minerals and dark fruit of Le Clos de Gravillas Lo Vielh Carignan 2019 (£26.50, noblegreenwines.co.uk) and the garrigue-scented Domaine Jones Vineyard Collection Carignan Old Vines 2018 (£18.99, farehamwinecellar.co.uk) at Tuchan in the Corbières and working up to sparkling intensity and in the sun of the brambles baked earthiness of 5 Partides, the glorious red of winemaker Marc Ripoll del Priorat of southern Catalonia. He’s also a significant player in Sardinia, in robust, licorice-filled bottlings like Sa Raja Carignano del Sulcis 2019 (£14.99, allaboutwine.co.uk). And this late-ripening, sun-loving grape also pops up in some of California’s best Rhône-inspired wines, like Santa Cruz’s admirably adventurous 2019 Scylla by Dark, flavoursome and addictive Mischief (£23.95, ndjohn.co .uk), where it is blended, as is often the case in the Mediterranean, with a little grenache and Mourvèdre.
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