You know the story well. A nice girl, gone unnoticed due to her unconventional beauty and seemingly bad luck. If only the poor girl would sweep her hair off her face! Surely then the popular boy would fall in love with her! You’ve seen it in The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Say Anything and almost every other movie from the late 80’s. John Hughes crafted them all, and he may have just as well written the story of Carignan (the French pronounce it “cahr-een-yahn”).
Carignan is a dark red grape hailing from France and Spain. For a while, Carignan had been rumored to be a low-quality red wine. This was for a few reasons. First, it is very vulnerable to powdery mildew that plagues vineyards, destroying entire crops by splitting and decaying the grapes. Some grapes have shown their abilities to stand up to mildew. But, similar to our shy, cinematic John-Hughes heroine, Carignan historically hasn’t maintained much of a backbone.
Carignan was also deemed lower quality because, like our offbeat beauty in the back of the class, she’s a little rough around the edges. Wine made from young Carignan grapes is characterized by strong tannins, bitterness and high acidity. Because young Carignan wines are harsh on their own, the wine is often used in blends to help add a little oomph to otherwise easy-drinking reds.
Carignan is one of the most commonly planted vines in France because it has a very high yield. In southern France, Carignan produces more than four times as much wine per hectare than Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab Sauv, in this context, is kind of like Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club. She’s pretty, rich and presentable; she has a better reputation than Carignan, who keeps brushing her dandruff all over the place like some kind of potentially crazy person. Meanwhile, Carignan sits at the back of the room, and even though she is way more productive and complex than Cab Sauv, she still doesn’t get much recognition.
Because Carignan is able to achieve such high yields in the southern French climate, it’s often picked young. However, as mentioned above, the young Carignan grapes tend to be very bitter and tannic. Though this is true of youthful Carignan, the flavor profile of wines from older Carignan vines is deemed much higher quality. Cue the inspirational 80’s music, the girl in the back of the class is about to come out of her shell!
As they became more and more exposed to the grape, winemakers in France started to come out of their daze, similar to how the varsity all-star starts to notice the token weird girl. They started trying a little tenderness, recognizing that if you take a second to get to know a vine, you might find it can produce really beautiful grapes. Hence, the emotional scene in The B-Club, where our fave hot jock and basketcase start sharing their deepest feelings about their home lives.
Once the smokin’ wrestling star gets to know her a little better, he realizes that Carignan is actually pretty amazing underneath all that messy hair and high tannins. He started giving our romantic underdog the attention she needed. Carignan grows best when old vines, planted on relatively infertile soils, are allowed to fully ripen during warm summers. The old vine’s stems are tough, so extra care needs to be taken to harvest the grapes by hand.
Vintners started to hone in on producing lower yields of Carignan. They quickly realized the result was a very delicious, higher-quality red wine that was perfect for drinking solo or in blends. When given the proper care, aged Carignan vines are able to manifest beautiful ripened fruit flavors without being as harsh on the palate. Typical tasting notes that manifest in wines made of Carignan are raspberry, cranberry and strawberry. Other detectable flavors include licorice, pepper and other baking spices.
This metaphorical pulling-hair-away-from-face lead everyone to fall in love with Carignan. Today, Carignan can be grown all around the world. The grape itself goes by different variations of the name “Carignan,” depending on where it’s being grown. The Spanish call it Cariñena, and grow the grape in their valued Priorat and Rioja regions. Meanwhile, in Cali they use the grape in blends and refer to it as Carignane. Carignano is also a very prominent grape grown on the Italian island of Sardinia. Giving the grape some extra love in the hot Italian climate makes the wine produced from it extra rich and spicy!
This grape’s story, like any film that romanticizes young love, has a happy ending. Our back-of-the-class basketcase grape was given the attention and love she needed to truly blossom. Through showing her real colors (which are red and delicious), Carignan was able to captivate the attention of wine lovers all over the world. Now she is loved by average wine consumers and acclaimed wine critics alike. So, not only did our unconventional Carignan gain the acceptance of her peers, but spoiler alert: Carignan got kissed by that hunk in the front of the class. Carign-YASS QUEEN!