Old Vine Chilean carignan: an emerging wine region with a lot to offer

All you need to know about carignan.

Chile’s Old Vine Carignan is coming! writes Gregory Dal Piaz. These are bush-trained, dry-farmed vines in a nation of lush vineyards. They are threads of legacy that tie the current wine industry to its roots. These vines are the same vines that subsistence farmers used for decades to make wine for local consumption, though today things have changed.

In particular, Chile has a successful and popular wine export program, with Bordeaux varieties leading the way. Many of the wines are excellent, but the one thing that most lack is that connection to the past that seems to be all the rage today.

The vines are dry farmed, which is exceedingly rare in Chile yet super popular with a certain clientele. More to the point, the wines have little competition. Cabernet from Chile is easy to compare with Cabernet from wherever, even Carmenere can succumb to these comparisons, but Old Vine Carignan? If you want a wine to set yourself apart from the crowd, it is hard to think of a better alternative!

In a way, these are hipster wines. They will never gain much of a following, but that’s okay since there’s not that much wine to begin with. They are being made in a fairly broad style, from Cabernet wannabes to something indefinable but certainly special, something that is and will be uniquely Chilean. More than that, they will be uniquely not what has made Chilean wine so popular; they will not be safe.

A local carignan, from Fairview near Paarl.

It’s easy to take risks when the stakes are low and in some ways, the stakes here are quite low. But for the small farmers with tiny plots of Carignan, the stakes have never been higher. The fruit from their vines has tripled or quadrupled in price since these vines were targeted by quality minded producers. What used to end up in big batch blends and anonymous jugs now finds its way into some of Chile’s most expensive wines. That is one reason that everyone involved hopes that these wines succeed. The other is to further embellish Chile’s credentials as a wine making country. We all know they can make great wines, but they have yet to find a wine to call their own. It seems a bit odd to me, since I think that if they stop trying to Cabernet their Carmenere they will have a runaway hit on their hands. So be it.

Small bets have been placed on Old Vine Carignan and it’s time to see if they’re going to pay off. There is still a tendency to Cabernet the hell out of anything that comes from a vine, in Chile and elsewhere, but many of these wines really seem to have something unique to say. While some of these wines tend towards the pricey end of the spectrum, which can be indicative of a bit of Cabernet-ization, they pretty much top out at $45. There are also lovely examples available in the teens that give nothing to their more expensive siblings.

Once you’ve read this, and have bitched at me for writing again about wines you can’t find, get off your butt and try harder. Not for me but for the farmers of Old Vine Carignan and the people willing to take a risk. Otherwise you’ll be heading down to the store someday and when you get there, all you’re going to find are the wines you are familiar with. That’s not fun now, is it?

(Source: SNOOTH)