St. Jean de la Gineste – a value vielles vignes carignan

corbieres gineste Carignan. When Bacchus was handing out the mellifluous names of grape varieties in French–Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Merlot roll easily of the anglophone tongue–he had apparently run out by the time he got to Carignan. In America it is often called carignane when planted, if at all, on domestic soil. But even in the Languedoc, in the south of France where the grape proliferates, reasonable people like Jancis Robinson have dumped on the grape for tasting like battery acid (or something).

By contrast, Becky Wasserman told me she considers Carignan to be “the Pinot Noir of the south,” especially given its high natural acidity. Wasserman, an exporter of French wine, includes one Carignan in her portfolio and it is a value, particularly now as the weather turns chilly. The family-run St. Jean de la Gineste, in the Corbieres appellation, cultivates some old vines of Carignan, ferments the grapes in a neutral, concrete vessel, and blends in 15 percent grenache. I purchased the resulting 2007 wine at New York Vintners for about $14 and found this true taste of Carignan to be worthy of respect. Dark in the glass, the un-pinot-like 14% alcohol makes it a bigger wine but the rustic grape tannin is unadorned by oak and then there’s the good acidity. Now if only I could rustle up some cassoulet…

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18 Responses to “St. Jean de la Gineste – a value vielles vignes carignan”


  1. I had a 2006 Trinafour “Niemi Vineyard” Carignane and I liked it very much. My personal score for it was 89. I did do some research to find a decent carignant though.


  2. Julie and I rented a canal boat and traveled down the Canal du Midi through the Corbieres and Minervois wine regions a few years ago. We had been drinking wines from this area for several years and wanted to visit the area so took advantage of it when I had business in Biarritz. I recently had good Carignane from the Lodi and Sierra Foothills regions, but with more “in your faceness” than those we drink from France. It has been one of our favorite varietals for a long time but is sometimes hard to find. It is also a very food-friendly varietal.


  3. On a friendly note, I’ll disagree on two counts. I love the way Carignan rolls off the tongue… it feels so Fraaaanch. I’m also more inclined, because of its natural herbaceous qualties and body, to call it the Cabernet Franc of the south. But I do love it.


  4. Are you positive about the 85% Carignan composition? Last time I checked the AOC Corbieres had a maximum cap for Carignan in the blend that was around the 40% figure. And I think a minimum of three different varieties was required to get the AOC.

    Some spectacular old vine Carignan is made by Clos du Gravillas in Minervois, whose owner John Bojanowski even founded a Carignan defence group at http://www.carignans.com.


  5. I went to NY Vintners yesterday, Nov. 6th and they were sold out of St. Jean de la Gineste a value vielles vignes carignan.

    Is it available anywhere else?


  6. Sylvain Fadat of Domaine d’Aupilhac labeled his 100% Carignan “Vin de Pays de Mont Baudile” because it didn’t meet the identity requirements for AOC Montpeyroux Côteaux du Languedoc. I don’t think it hurt his sales any.

    Jean-Louis Tribouley has made a couple vintages of 100% Carignan as “Vin de Pays de Cote Catalan.” Haven’t gotten to the ’08 yet, but the ’07 was spectacular–very big, but saved from fruit-bombdom by the aforementioned acidity.

    Discovering that Santa Ema made 100% Carignan from 100-year-old vines in the Colchauga Valley was a happy discovery a year or two back. It’s bottled as part of the premium “Amplus” line. The first (and only) vintage I tasted was 2006, and it was very nearly in the class of Tribouley’s wine. Which, upon reflection, it should have been, since it cost about $5 more at retail. ;-)


  7. The 2008 Hachette guide says 60% is the maximum for carignan in the AOC Corbieres. Anyone else?


  8. Michele: AOC rules have not caught up with the improved quality (which is to say, increased age/decreased yield) of French Carignan vines. Once upon a time, Carignan was a junk grape, suitable for vermouth and bulk blending. Fadat, Tribouley, Jean-Marc Lafage, Daniel Lafitte, Gerard Gauby, and many others in Languedoc/Roussillon have proved, I think, that Carignan deserves better official status.


  9. Welcome carignan enthusiasts! Thanks for the comments.

    Laurie – nice on the “cab franc of the south” comparison! I would buy that–CF can have more brawny rusticity than Pinot Noir, with Carignan going even beyond CF.

    Elliott – Too bad. Did you try using wine-searcher.com?

    Others – I see on the Le Serbet website that the vines date to 1925. As to the varietal composition, I pinged the wines NY importer about it prior to posting and the reply was 85-15, carignan/grenache.

    Would be fun to do a carignan(e) tasting! Sounds like Dave E. would be with me on that. ;-)


  10. People – The AOC rules which stipulate maximum/minimum percentages of each particular grape variety generally refer to what is in the vineyard, not what is in the wine. For example, a grower may have vineyard holdings comprising (say) equal quantities of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, etc. From those grapes, they can make pretty much any blend he they want. Therefore, a wine which is (say) 80% or even 90% Carignan can qualify for the AOC, assuming that grape variety is one of those permitted by that AOC. Same with Syrah, Grenache, etc, etc.

    Even 100% “varietals” (i.e. a wine made from just one of the varieties) can – in theory, at least – qualify as an AOC wine. I think it is frowned upon by the AOC police, but it does happen!

    So the AOC rules are not nearly as restrictive as many might think. Confusing, though!


  11. At last! A place to mingle with fellow carignan enthusiasts! I was starting to feel a little lonely out here in this pinot-praise-craze. I am delighted to add that I’ve tried a couple of very cool carignans from California, recently a delicious one from a small winery called Broc Cellars. They apparently do a partial carbonic maceration and if I may say, the wine is very very cool! The other one is from Carl Sutton at Sutton Cellars, his wines are mucho fun too. Has anyone had any other interesting domestic carignans?

    Cheers!!


  12. On going through some older Le Revue du vin de France I found an article that seems to indicate that these days corbieres contains around 80% carignan. I have read, so far, 40%, 60%, 80% and, according to what Leon has said, a separate AOC Corbieres for every winery in the zone. I used to sell Domaine de Fontsainte and even their top old vines cuvee contains 60%. I just want to know the facts. What is reality?


  13. Hi Michele –

    Yes, it’s too bad that so few syndicats/AOCs have good web sites. Often the best bet for information on the wine internet in France comes from the so-called “interprofession” (growers and negociants) from each region.

    In this case, here’s the link for Corbieres AOC:
    http://www.languedoc-wines.com/english/aoc_corbieres.asp

    And here’s the text about grapes:
    Grapes
    For red wines and rosés, Carignan 50 % maximum, Syrah, Black Grenache, Mourvedre, Lledoner Pelut and Cinsault (20 % for red wines, 70 % for rosés).
    For the white wines, Bourboulenc, White Grenache, Maccabeu, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Rolle or Vermentino. Terret blanc, Picquepoul and Muscat (maxi 10 %).

    I also checked out the INAO web site, a national organization for AOCs. This is what they said about permitted grape varieties:
    – vins rouges
    cépages principaux : Carignan N, Grenache N, Lladonner Pelut, Mourvèdre, syrah,
    cépages accessoires : Cinsault, piquepoul N, grenache gris Terret N, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache N, Lladoner 50% mini, Carignan, Piquepoul N, Terret N 50% maxi, Cinsault < 20%,Grenache gris max 10%
    Nota : 2 cépages au minimum

    Although the wine has to be a blend, there's no indication of a maximum for Carignan.
    http://www.inao.gouv.fr/public/produits/detailProduit.php?ID_PRODUIT=6044


  14. Thank you..I had found the Corbieres site but had missed the link about cepage’. The INAO site I think indicates 50% maximum. Since none of this is true in real life it seems we can go no further. I have written two groups in France and am waiting for responses. Needlessly to say, I’ll let you know if they write back to me. Thanks again,..


  15. […] the recent discussion about Corbieres that emerged following my post about a wine from the region last week. Readers […]


  16. michelecolline poste this comment to another thread but it is relevant here so I copy it below:

    Comment:
    Carignan update…I heard back from a MW who lives in the south of France who says the appellation limits Corbieres to 50% in the blend except for those with primarily carignan in their vineyards(kudos to Leon for pointing this out). This seems to make the AOC a bit ‘redundant’ to me but so it goes. It seems a wine high in carignan would have to be labelled Vin de Pays(as Dave E. pointed out with d’Aupilhac in Monpeyroux)instead of Corbieres. I had read a book some time ago that stated the local AOC board was composed of local winemakers and they got together to taste all the wines from their region and decided if they were representative of the zone. If so, they passed. If this is in effect in Corbieres then all the wine must be is ‘worthy’ of the region. It seems to me the AOC should just limit the grape varieties and not specify percentages. And they lived happily ever after………..


  17. Try the Cantina di Santadi Shardana Valli di Porto Pino IGT. A carignan from Sardina that is truly outstanding and a huge vaule. Also Windsor vineyards in Sonoma does a fairly nice carignane especially if bought on sale.


  18. […] may also have to do with the blend, which usually is about three-quarters zinfandel, twenty percent carignane, adding acidity to the wine. (The balance of the blend consists of the aforementioned petite sirah […]


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