I may be being over optimistic, but is that Spring that I sense in the air? The sun, yes, that’s right folks, the sun is shining – well, it was 5 minutes ago. What is more, there isn’t a gale force wind blowing, threatening to snap my shooting daffodils off before they’ve even bloomed. This could all change before the weekend of course as I’ll be back on my stall on Maidenhead Produce Market, so expect snow or a mini-typhoon on Saturday, just to keep me on my toes.
Although the budding trees suggest that we’re moving out of red wine season into white, and dare I mention it in February, rosé, I’ve had a reoccurring question asked of me of late by white wine drinkers who would like to dabble in a bit of red but aren’t sure where to start. To ease you in gently, my recommendation would be to find something young and fruity with low tannin* and little to no oak; tackling a Gran Reserva Rioja or Australian Barossa at this stage would be ill advised.
The obvious suggestion would be to try a light and fruity Gamay from one of the Beaujolais Villages such as Fleurie or Brouilly, or a Pinot Noir, but let me introduce those of you that are new to red, and anyone else looking for an easy-going red, to Languedoc’s very own soft and supple Carignan.
Carignan is one of the oldest grape varieties grown in Languedoc and during the latter part of the 20th century, was vastly overgrown contributing significantly to Languedoc’s old reputation for producing rubbish wine and the EU’s troublesome ‘wine lake’. Things have changed since the early 2000’s however, since the majority of the poorer quality Carignan vines have now been ripped out, leaving the better quality, lower-yielding old vines, or ‘vielles vignes’ behind. Combine the better quality fruit and the arrival of many talented and experimental new winemakers to Languedoc, Carignan is very much part of the new wave of great wines being produced from the region, great news all round.
I just so happen to have a 100% Carignan, made from old vines grown nearby to Minervois in Languedoc, on my books, Calmel and Joseph’s Vieux Carignan (£10.50). I’ve described this easy-drinking wine in the past as a big warm hug, well-rounded with red cherry fruit and soft tannins. This is a real ‘Marmite’ wine, with some customers loving it, others happy to leave it. I love it, even JancisRobinson.com thinks it’s great, scoring it a high 17.5/20,while others don’t find it has enough oomph and prefer their Carignan blended with other grape varieties such as Syrah and Grenache, as per the Calmel and Joseph St Chinian.
So if there are any white wine drinkers out there who wonder what they’re missing over on the darker side of red, come and try the Calmel and Joseph Vieux Carignan for yourself this Saturday and see what you think. The new Grenache Gris rosé from Calmel and Joseph will also be under scrutiny this weekend as I collect your feedback as to whether you’d like to see it join the wine list. In return, I’ll enter you into the draw to win a bottle of Villa Blanche Picpoul or Syrah worth £8.50.
* The technical bit: Tannin is that unusual drying sensation that you might feel across your gums and teeth when drinking red wine or black tea. The tannin in a wine comes from the skin (also the pips and stalk) of the grape, as does the colour. Most white wines have little contact with the skins of the grape, hence have no tannin, but red wine is left in contact with the skins during fermentation, hence the tannin and colour is present in the wine. This process is known as maceration. Because the Carignan grape can be subject to some harsh and high tannin levels, the winemaking process ‘carbonic maceration’ is often used to produce a fruity style of wine with soft tannin. This is where the grapes are left to ferment as whole bunches in their skins, the weight of the bunches naturally pressing those at the bottom, hence less tannin in the wine as not all of the juice is in direct contact with the skins.