The Chilean Wine Revolution:
The Emergence of Carignan
After decades of successfully exporting good quality entry level wines, Chile has emerged as an important producer of premium wine. In our Report #21: The Chilean Wine Revolution (February 2010) we called attention to the increasing number of wineries that are producing new and exciting wines in re-discovered and newly discovered regions. In cool climate coastal regions such as Casablanca, San Antonio, Elquí, and Limarí, several wineries are crafting crisp and mineral-rich Sauvignon Blanc and elegant Pinot Noir. In the more temperate regions of Maipo, Aconcagua, Colchagua and Cochapoal, they are turning out richly flavored Carmenere and fruit-forward red blends. And in the South of Chile in the Bio-Bio, Malleco and the Maule Valley, wineries are proving they can produce distinctive Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and terroir-driven Carignan. Indeed, the emergence of premium quality Carignan in the hot dry Maule region is proving to be an exciting success story of the Chilean Wine Revolution.
Carignan is not new to Chile. It has been grown in the Maule Valley for more than 70 years. First planted on a large scale in the early 1940s, it served as a work horse grape for blending. The grape’s high acidity, color and flavor were all seen as helpful additives to improve the local wines. Carignan is a rustic grape originally grown in the Mediterranean regions of France (Languedoc) and Spain (Priorat). It exhibits good acidity, ripens late in the season and grows well in the hot dry Maule Valley where mildew is not a problem.
Although this workhorse variety was primarily used for blending, Chilean winemakers have recently come to realize that their head-pruned, old vine Carignan can produce exciting wines. Most of Chile’s old vineyards are 30+ years old, dry farmed and hand-harvested. The wines come in a variety of styles. Some wines exhibit pure red berry fruit and toasted oak while others tend towards darker red plum, mulberry and black fruit. While most are aged in French and American oak, others are produced with little or no oak and reveal considerable earthiness and terroir.
Vigno “Vignadores de Carignan” is an organization of growers and winemakers for the marketing and promotion of Carignan of the Maule Valley. It was established in November 2009 by 12 founding wineries, representing a mix of small and medium-sized producers. They are: Bravado Wines, De Martino, Garage Wine Co, Viña Gillmore, Viña Lomas de Cauquenes, Viña Meli, Miguel Torres, Morandé, Odfjell, Undurraga, and Valdivieso. Vigno wines must be made from at least 65% old, dry-farmed Carignan vines from Maule. The vines have to be dry-farmed and head pruned bush vines (gobelet). Vigno has helped put Chilean Carignan on the map and is dedicated to preserving the vineyards and promoting the quality of Carignan worldwide.
Following are our tasting notes and ratings of Carignan. We thank Wines of Chile for its assistance in obtaining samples.
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