SommCon is an en masse gathering of sommeliers & other wine professionals. The one held this past November was in San Diego, California & featured 3 days worth of panel discussions, presentations & educational seminars. One of the most interesting presentations I attended was– “Carignan–it’s just not for blending any more“–by Geoff Labitzke, Master of Wine & Brian Lynch of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants.
My fascination for the Carignan grape variety has really grown over the years. As the title of the seminar suggests it was typically used as a blending component rather than a featured, stand alone bottling.
The first Carignan based red wine that caught my fancy was from Domaine de Fontsainte & their Corbières red in the late 80’s/early 90’s. I found it to be so delicious, tasty, food friendly & gulpable. Shortly thereafter, when tasting other Corbieres red wines from their neighbors, I was rather put off by the over use of Syrah to their blends & I was thankful to have experienced the Fontsainte rendition first. Subsequently I also took a fancy to their “Réserve La Demoiselle” bottling (the Carignane planted in 1904). These 2 wines opened a whole new thought for me on what Carignane could offer.
A short time later, my next Carignan experience was produced by the Pellegrini family (California) back in the early 1990’s. I found it to be tasty, interesting & quite food friendly though very unique, rambunctious & virile. It was also quite a great value for what one got in the bottle. This wine showed me what was possible in California, especially from the Sonoma & Mendocino wine growing areas. (I have since found 2 other interesting Carignane based red wines out of California worth checking out–Folk Machine “Parts & Labor” & the Neyers Carignan “Evangelho Vineyard”)
In both cases, I found Carignan not to be showy or as outgoing as those wines produced from Syrah, Grenache or Mourvedre grape varieties. It had its own set of characteristics. I especially liked old vine renditions as Carignan seemed to be quite a conduit of character & vinosity from the old vines to the wine in the bottle, at least in certain cases. It really was those cases that greatly peaked my interest. After Fontsainte, I discovered that importer Kermit Lynch added other Carignan driven wines to his fabulous portfolio, including old vine Carignan dominated bottlings from Sylvain Fadat at D’Aupilhac, Maxime Magnon, Leon Barral, Vinci & Les Milles Vignes. Each offer something special & compelling.
With Carignan, there were also some to be found out of Spain’s Priorat region that are also interesting.
So, I was quite anxious to see what Geoff & Brian would offer at this tasting seminar. They did NOT disappoint. Geoff sought after & collected some interesting renditions from Mexico, Sonoma, San Diego, Chile, Spain AND Tunisia of all places! Brian brought & shared 4 true Carignane superstars from his portfolio–Maxime Magnon “Campagnes”; Domaine D’Aupilhac “Le Carignan”; Vinci “Rafalot” & Les Milles Vignes “Dennis Royal”–each wine featuring 80 to 100 year old Carignane vines, their fruit & very masterful grape growing & winemaking. It was quite an insightful gathering of wines & tasting & I was overjoyed. Thank you guys for this fabulous opportunity!