Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Catalonia Cariñena (Samsó)

Carignan (Cariñena in Spain) is a black-skinned wine grape variety, most likely native to Aragon. The variety is found in wines along the Mediterranean coast, particularly in northeastern Spain and in France's Languedoc-Roussillon region. It is used most commonly for blending with many of the region's other key varieties – most famously Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. In Spain the best Cariñena wines are found in the acclaimed Priorat region and in Catalonia it is often labeled as Samsó. Often found blended with the more plush Garnacha, Cariñena makes up just under a quarter of plantings (of red wine varieties) in the area.

Carignan prefers warm, dry climates when the grape can express high tannins, acid and color. This makes it an excellent addition to red wine blends that have plenty of aroma and flavor, but lack body and depth of color. Carignan is only rarely made as a varietal wine, but the best examples can show characteristics of dark and black fruits, pepper, licorice, and spicy and savory accents.

Carignan is usually grown as bush vines, many of which are very old and require hand-harvesting as the vines' stems are too tough for machines. It is a late-ripening variety that is known to produce high yields if not properly cropped. This was once considered an attractive attribute of the grape but, as this can make it difficult to achieve good flavor concentration, it also led to it falling out of favor. (

For a broader view of Catalonia Wines please read Catalan Wines USA Master Class -- Catalunya's Grapes, Designations, and Wine-making History.  During this tasting there were three expressions of 100% Cariñena poured all representing a different Catalonia appellation. 

Cellar Masroig is a century old winery located in Priorat County in the DO Montsant. This is a mountainous region known for their red wines and the owners of Cellar Masroig asserts that Cariñena is the foundation of their wines. Their Cellar Masroig Sola Fred 2022 ($15) is 100% Carignan and aged six months in stainless steel showing a bright fruit, very fruit forward, with a vibrant mouthfeel and refreshing acidity.  

Molí Parellada was founded in 1987 in the town of Sant Sadurni d'Anoia (near Barcelona) as El Xamfra -- specializing in cava production. In 2016, they opened a second winery in the town of Torrelavit in the DO Penedes. Since the new winery was built within an old paper mill, the new cellar was named Molí Parellada.  Second generation Francisco Domínguez is now the winermaker and CEO and has envisioned the large expansion of production in both cava and still wines. The Molí Parellada Alabrent 2022 ($36) - is one of these still wines, made from 100% Samsó which is interestingly aged six months in a locust tree barrel. The wine has a chewy structured mouthfeel full of slightly spicy sour cherries and other red fruit which carries through the long finish. Imported by 

In 1985, Tomàs Cusiné Barber started making wine at the family-owned Castell del Remei winery, started the Cérvoles winery in 1997, and the Tomàs Cusiné winery in 2003.  All three within the borders of the DO Costers Del Segre. This is a dry, semi-arid Continental climate featuring limestone and clay spoils and Catalonia's northernmost DO. The 30 hectares of vineyards he manages are organically or biodynamically farmed. These vines are planted in high elevations and result in the slower ripening of grapes, thicker skins, optimal acidity, and vibrant colors. This is the situation regarding the Finca Barqueres Carignan 2018 ($53)  -- 100% Cariñena harvested from a 1.5 hectare plot of old vine Cariñena. After fermentation, the wine is aged twelve months in French oak barriques. The wine is delicious, layers of stewed plums and tobacco, some spice, and an approachable finish. Excellent. Imported by Valkyrie Selections.

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