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Carignan: A little bit Savage

As an ex-importer that specialised in wines from the south of France I was particularly pleased to see the hugely knowledgeable, tasting guru that is the humble Matthew Stubbs MW here in Taiwan. Matthew, an eleven-year resident of the Languedoc is keenly aware of the need to promote the best from this large and somewhat dis-jointed region and is often to be found trotting round the globe proselytising about the wines of the sud-de-France.

Visiting the Hong Kong wine-fair this week it was a pleasure to become re-acquainted with one of the stalwarts of this region Carignan. For a long time this was prized by many producers for its ability to produce grapes (and therefore wine) on an industrial scale. In the era when a Frenchman used to have a glass of wine with his cornflakes this was fine. Wine was more about providing a certain level of alcoholic sustenance, than a delicious experience. As wine consumption has fallen in France so has the market for this basic ‘plonk’ resulting in Carignan being deemed (by many) to be surplus to requirements. This was due to the belief that the production of anything above that of the prosaic was beyond Carignan’s abilities. Now, as with so many things that fall out of favour, Carignan is experiencing something of a renaissance. This is not to suggest that it is fashionable or being replanted in earnest but many have realised that older vines (that naturally help limit production) coupled with cooler sites, often at higher elevations, can result in something rather special.

If Pinot Noir was a face it would be all high cheek-bones, translucent skin and clean-shaven. Carignan on the other hand is a little pock-marked, stubbly and wild-eyed. Give the two wines below a taste and I challenge you not to be impressed by their grizzled character.

Dits Del Terra, Terroir Al Limit, 2010, 13.5%, Biodynamic.
Grape:
Old Carinena (Spanish for Carignan)
Wine-making: 24 months in old oak
Note: Mid purple, relatively restrained nose of bread, faded flowers, spiced plum and Chinese medicine. Stony textured and firm tannins support an elegant yet wild wine (a vinous version of Cathy in Wuthering Heights). Carinena at its windswept best.
Price: Expensive. Don’t worry, it’s worth it.
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: Prowine in Hong Kong

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The Magic of Mogador

Passion is a much-abused word. It is not something that can be manufactured, it is visceral and can be seen burning behind the eyes of those who possess it. When confronted with such emotion it is very difficult not to be moved, engaged, drawn in. Rene Barbier Jnr of Clos Mogador is a man brimming with intensity and desire to produce the very best from the schistous soils of his family’s famous estate. In the modern era, Priorat has come to represent the celebration of the extensive network of old vine Garnacha and Carinena that litter the terraces here. In the past these were considered workhorse varieties that offered little, even in the volume produced, so poor is the soil. Yet the paucity of organic material in Priorat’s dirt ensures that only the hardiest of vines survive, eeking out an existence that results in grapes of significant concentration. Little water combined with hot day-time temperatures are two conditions mirrored throughout much of the wine-producing world but it is the ‘value added’ factors of these old vines and cool nights (that helps retain acidity, and perfume), experienced by the vineyards in the higher reaches of this region, that makes the best of Priorat intensely intense.

Like many in his profession, Rene will tell you that it is all about the vineyard but this is only half of the story. Rene wants finesse in his wines as well as grunt and it this quest for elegance that governs many of his wine-making decisions. These include sorting in the winery to remove raisined fruit (to keep alcohol at a more food friendly level) and judicious use of oak maturation that helps build texture and complexity as opposed to a simple seasoning of vanilla or spice. If you want to try a benchmark example of modern Priorat then Clos Mogador is a fine example that leaves many of the other wines in Priorat looking like blurred facsimiles of Rene’s best.

Clos Mogador, Priorat, 2006, 14.5%
Grape:
40% Garnacha, 15% Carignan, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Syrah.
Wine-making: Low Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) regime in all Mogador wines. 20 months in 300l French Oak Casks.
Note: Intensely mineral smelling of crushed rocks with a slight animal character. Concentrated, warm, spice-laden and with densely ripe strawberry and a little dried fruit character. Excellent length.
Price: 4,200NT
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: icheers.tw

Clos Mogador, Priorat, 2007, 14.5%
Grape:
40% Garnacha, 22% Carignan, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah.
Wine-making: Low Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) regime in all Mogador wines. 20 months in 300l French Oak Casks.
Note: Mineral (graphite, oil, crushed rock) and smelling of the wild with darker fruit than the 2006. Huge concentration, intense, herbal, some chocolate and both full bodied and persistent. Pretty magnificent.
Price: 4,200NT
Score: 18.5/20
Available from: icheers.tw

Clos Mogador, Priorat, 2008, 14.5%
Grape:
46% Garnacha, 21% Carignan, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Syrah.
Wine-making: Low Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) regime in all Mogador wines. 20 months in 300l French Oak Casks.
Note: Deep purple, mineral, wild black cherry fruit, floral, herby, perhaps the most complex nose of them all. Concentrated, mouth-coating tannins, a seam of balancing acidity and once again great persistence. Fine and pure with a graceful air.
Price: 4,200NT
Score: 18.5/20
Available from: icheers.tw

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