Carignan is an ancient blue-skinned grape varietal, thought to be indigenous to the Aragon region of Spain. However, today it is most commonly associated with the fine wines of southern France, and has been grown in many countries around the world which have the warm and dry conditions it requires to thrive. Carignan is recognized as being quite a sensitive vine, highly susceptible to all kinds of rot and mildew, although producing excellent results when given the right conditions and handled correctly. Its high tannin levels and acidity make the Carignan grapes very astringent, and as such, they are often used as a blending grape to give body to other, lesser bodied varietals. Despite this, with careful treatment, Carignan can produce superb single varietal wines packed full of character and unique attributes.
The beautiful Spanish wine region of Catalunya has a history of viticulture which stretches back for over a thousand years, and has been influenced by a wide range of people who moved through the region, and brought their wine making skills and expertise with them. The region itself is a sizeable one, covering an area of sixty thousand hectares, and within this space there resides over two hundred individual wineries, ranging from small, independent and traditional ones to the larger, mass production bodegas known around the world. The terroir of Catalunya is varied, and ranges from being dry and arid, to more lush and green in the wetter parts of the region which are closer to the coast. This variation in terroir results in a fantastic range of grape varietals being grown, and a wide range of wine styles are produced within Catalunya.
Priorat has an especially long history of wine making since at least the 12th century. Its poor, stony soil underlaid by slate and quartz planted with very old vines gives its established vineyards incredibly low yields of only 0.3 tons/acre. Perhaps because of the unbelievable concentration of their fruit, Priorat vineyards produce world class wines from the usually ordinary Grenacha and Carignan grapes. Surprisingly, these varietals -- elsewhere popular for rosis and light character reds -- engender big sturdy red wines with smooth, plentiful tannins, perfect for long bottle aging. The most recent trend amends local tradition by adding the French varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah to newer vineyards; and also by aging new wines in new French rather than the more usual American barrels. The resulting wines have been described as richly concentrated but well-balanced, with strong tannins and high alcohol - both powerful and graceful. Priorat has also begun to offer some new dry whites and rosis (rosados) in the fresher international style.