Saturday, 3 September 2011

Carignan blanc

My first experience of grape picking was at Mas Gabriel last year. This year I joined in with the white vendange of their two parcels of mainly Carignan blanc. Do see Rosemary George's detailed and informative description with photos of the Mas Gabriel 2010 white harvest. There really isn't anything I can add beyond what happens to the press at the end of each pressing, but I'll save that for a report on the rosé harvest.

Given the quality and popularity of the Clos des Papillons, the Carignan blanc from Mas Gabriel, I am intrigued as to why this variety is virtually unheard of and seemingly rare. After all, red relation Carignan is arguably the defining contributory grape to the identity of the region's red wine. Having picked it for a couple of days I now appreciate that, like the noir, yields need to be low and that even in the best years a labour intensive thorough triage of the bunches is essential for a quality wine. It basically isn't economically viable and can only really exist as a second fiddle for an independent producer.

I came across this site Observatoire viticole of the Hérault maintained by the Conseil General de l'Hérault. Its packed full of data and statistics on all matters relating to the grape in the department. Finding stuff is a bit clunky, much of the content is just documents, the search facility works well at a high level when one gets the hang of it.

In 2009, the most recent data, Carignan blanc is reported to occupy 230 hectares. Maybe this sounds a fair amount, but it represents just 0.25% of the Hérault's surface area under vines. Much of it will end up as the minor component of a blend, but if there's any good news it should all be good quality low yielding old vines. By comparison, in 2004 there were 392 hectares representing 0.36%. At this rate it will be very rare indeed by the end of the decade.


  1. Coincidentally I opened a bottle last night. I love that apricot stone fruit, almost dusty minerality. And what length it has! I wondered how many other producers use this grape, your timely post helps provide an answer, thanks

  2. Graham, I like your statement that "Carignan is arguably the defining contributory grape to the identity of the region's red wine." Based on so many positive experiences of wines made solely from Carignan over the last few years, I'd go even further and say that it is very definitely the jewel in the region's crown.

    Let's hope for a resurgence in the fortunes of Carignan Blanc, too.

    By the way, I must taste these Mas Gabriel wines!

  3. Alan - also based in Caux Le Conte Des Floris make a Carignan Blanc called La Lune Blanche. I haven't tasted it for a few years but it was excellent, but at over 20€ it should be. I posted Clos des Clapisses (Octon) on here, less complex than Mas Gabriel but nevertheless a very pleasant drink. I purchased it at the Clermont l'Herault Huilerie - last bottle I think.
    Domaine de Pas de l'Escalette make a Carignan blanc and Terret Bourret Le Clapas blanc right under the Larzac plateau. Renegades from the Loire so they understand minerality. Again over 20€.

  4. Thanks Graham. Debora mentioned the Floris wines as being good when I visited them in Caux. As you say at the price it should be good and makes Gabriel even better value. I will look into Pas de l'Escalette, it's that minerality which really makes the wine so balanced and I'd love to try another similar wine.