A Night of Carignan
For many wine drinkers in the US, Carignan has a bad name. Eric Asimov even went off in search of some potentially good bottles back in 2009 but didn’t find many. There is in fact so little of it in the country that most people don’t even know what it is. Maybe this is for the better as in Europe, many people know it and loathe it as it was planted to overproduce and grow squalid, flat, cheap wines mostly in the south of France.
But once you have the chance to taste well-crafted wines from old vine Carignan or at least properly grown and vinified grapes, everything changes. It is a transcendent grape with this glowing, living purple hue in the glass. Wonderful in character and infinitely deep, it ignites an even greater love affair with wine than one had before–when you find the right one.
With all this in mind, it’s no wonder that we jumped at the chance to partake of the “Nit de les Carinyenes” put on by the Cellers de Porrera association. Essentially, it’s a large gathering of all the producers in the Priorat village of Porrera and their Carignans. But no, this isn’t just some pouring of wines. It’s actually a chance to taste the single vineyard Carignans prior to being blended in to other bottles.
Some of them, like those from Cims de Porrera or Balmaprat stay as a beautiful single varietal wine. Others, like the Nit de Nin from Nin-Ortiz or the Vi de Vila from Vall Llach get blended to wonderful ends. This is all wondrous in and of itself, but beyond this, many cellars pull out bottles of old years, like 2000 for instance which was a stellar growing year for the region. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve had to drink when you taste a vintage like that as it lights up the palate and nearly put tears in your eyes.
It’s not a cheap night at 50€ (especially considering the meager food offerings), but it’s worth it to taste these very rare and exquisite wines. In that price, you do get some food, but the venue rotates between the four or so restaurants in Porrera in the name of fairness so depending on the year, the food offer might be better than others. Still, it’s really about tasting these wines and being able to look Asimov in the eye if he dares to badmouth Carignan again and say, “you ain’t seen nothing”.
Those fully included in the tasting were: Ardèvol, Castellet, Cal Pla, Els Bigotis del Gat, Celler de l’Encastell, Joan Simó, Vall Llach, Família Nin Ortiz, Ferrer Bobet, Marco Abella, Merum Priorati, Sangenís i Vaqué, Trosset, and special guest from up north in Empordà, La Vinyeta.
Álvaro Palacios - L’Ermita 2016
Very light red cherry, raspberry, tea leaves, dried fennel, light touch of anise, bay leaf, dried flowers, touch of fig compote, truffle. Exceptionally light and delicate on the palate, very very fine red fruits, integrated tannins, plush with a slightly buttery, velvety aspect, very long finish.
85% Grenache 14% Carignan 1% "Others" · 15% · 1160EUR
Ancestral Wine Cellar - Khikhvi 2014
First harvest of Khikhvi. Light apricot notes, peach skin, lemon peel. Citric in the mouth, fresh, lively acidity, vibrant. Very holistic, full and deliciously good.
100% Khikhvi · 12% · 30GEL
Álvaro Palacios - Les Aubaguetes 2016
Linear plum and dark cherry notes, powdery cocoa, orange peel and blossom, raspberry at the base along with minor vanilla and dark spice touches. Delicate on the palate, light touches of dark fruit, good wealth of tannins yet held in check, medium plus acidity, very long finish. Needs much more time in the bottle.
77% Grenache 21% Carignan 1% Grenache Blanc 1% Macabeu · 14.5% · 455EUR
Petriaant Marani - Khikhvi 2015
Bruised red apple, touch of lemon peel, limestone minerality, and some white pepper notes at the back of it. High acidity and full in the mouth. Luscious, involving, elegant wine.
100% Khikhvi · 14% · 25GEL
Tchotiashvili - Khikhvi 2014
Apricot, yellow peach, orange peel, and a touch of honey. Quite complex aromatically. Orchard fruit much more prevalent in the mouth with young apricot notes. Rich and elegant, touch of astringency in the finish.
100% Khikhvi · 13.1% · 28GEL
Domaine of the Bee - Cuvée 2015
Ruby with minor garnet rim. Rich red fruits with an underpinning of ripe plum, orange peel, licorice, cocoa. Broad, round tannins with a touch of toast and sweet cocoa in a long finish. Manages to stay very light on the palate despite the higher alcohol.
50% Grenache 50% Carignan · 15% · 25EUR
Aquila del Torre - Primaluce 2015
Bruised yellow apple, bit of fig compote, chalky mineral notes, and hazelnut. Light oxidized touches that work to embellish the wine. Rich palate that carries lovely texture with the age of the wine.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13.5%
Domaine Augustin - Adéodat Blanc 2016
Lemon and white peach, strong kick of salinity, and toasted notes. Very fleshy and full on the palate, peach notes more prominent as well as Meyer lemon, medium plus acidity and a lengthy finish.
100% Grenache Gris · 14.5% · 20EUR
AA Badenhorst - Secateurs Red Blend 2012
Forest bramble with ripe red fruit, touches of cherry, ripe red plum, tiny bit of prune, cumin, anise, black licorice, wet cement mineral note, underlying fig jam. Crisp medium plus acidity, medium tannins, medium plus length, medium alcohol, overall medium plus body that’s ripe and lively but super fresh and balanced at the same time. Bit of rugged wildness to it but doesn’t get out of hand. Easy to drink but with just enough underlying complexity so that it stays interesting.
56% Syrah 27% Cinsaut 6% Grenache 4% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% "Others" · 13.5% · 12EUR
Domaine Treloar - Motus 2015
Dark ruby, minor rim. Big, mighty bouquet of red cherry and other brambly forest fruit, vanilla, almond blossom, orange peel, and cocoa. Rich and full on the palate with a wealth of tannins still integrating, leading into a crunchy, lingering finish.
80% Mourvèdre 10% Syrah 10% Grenache · 14% · 14EUR