Domaine Lafage Tessellae Carignan Vieilles Vignes 2018
Carignan has had a rather tumultuous history in the south of France. Once seen as a necessary grape to spur the recovery of the region after the plague of phylloxera in the late 19th century, primarily for its ability to produce high yields, it has been largely replaced with “nobler” varieties such as Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. This is unfortunate – for as challenging as the variety is to love when the vines are young, they are superb with half a century under their belt. Jean-Marc Lafage luckily resisted the call to uproot and replace this variety, and he possesses Carignan vines well over 70 years old on schist with which he makes the Tessellae Carignan.
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Jean-Marc farms (with some help!) 160 hectares of vines located just south of the capital of French Catalonia, Perpignan. Some of his family’s vineyards are situated a few kilometers from the Mediterranean, while others can be found further inland in the foothills of the Pyrenees or near the village of his birth, Maury. This range of sites allows him to make both refreshing whites, rich, concentrated reds, and fortified wines as well. Benefiting from a warm, dry climate, the estate is farmed organically. They grow primarily Grenache (Blanc, Gris & Noir), Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Marsanne, Roussanne and Chardonnay with a significant proportion of his vines well over 50 years old. The soil, as you near the coast is weathered, alluvial gravel while in the higher elevation sites it is predominantly schist. They harvest by hand and the winemaking is surprisingly uncomplicated with stainlesss steel for the fresher whites but mainly concrete tanks for the reds with a judicious amount of large French oak barrels for aging.
Although it is a region predominantly recognized for fortified, vins doux naturels (a type of sweet wine), Roussillon is also ideal for the production of dry red, white and rose wines. To encompass all the dry wines from the surrounding region that are not the vins doux naturels of Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes, the appellation of Côtes du Roussillon was created in 1977. It covers the eastern half of the Pyrénées-Orientales (the eastern side of the Pyrenees Mountains) and lower lands of Roussillon. Côtes du Roussillon includes complex soils of schist, limestone, gneiss and granite and climatic conditions that support many grape varieties.
Côtes du Roussillon red wines are blends made from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and smaller amounts of Carignan, Cinsault and the lesser known, Lledoner Pelut. Rosé wines come from the same varieties, as well as may include Grenache Gris and Macabeo. White wines from Côtes du Roussillon are Grenache Blanc and Macabeo with small amounts of Marsanne, Roussanne and Rolle (aka Vermentino).
Responsible for some of the most stunning old vine red wine on the planet, Carignan has an amazing capacity to survive dry, arid climates and still produce lovely, mouthwatering wine. In Spain it goes by the name of Mazuelo or Cariñena and while it may have originated there in the province of Aragón, its popularity lies elsewhere, particularly in Languedoc-Roussillon. Somm Secret—Historically Carignan did not enjoy the respect that it does today. In the mid 20th century, Carignan covered nearly 140,000 ha in Algeria, where it was made into low quality bulk and blending wine to supply mass-market demand.