Make new friends with old-vine wines

<span>Photograph: Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Shutterstock

Alain Grignon Carignan Vieilles Vignes, IGP Pays de l’Herault, France 2021 (£8.99, or £6.99 as part of a mixed case of six bottles, Old vines have become something of a cause célèbre in the wine business in recent years. In part, it’s a conservation issue: older plants, some of which are about 100 years old or more, represent an important part of wine’s heritage. They’re also more efficient when it comes to water, or rather, its absence (increasingly useful as the climate crisis brings more frequent and severe droughts to many parts of the wine world). Happily, in many cases there’s a quality angle, too: more often than not, old vines deliver more concentrated but better-balanced fruit than younger vines, albeit in much smaller quantities. What’s more, rather curiously, age seems to have a positive effect on even the most unfashionable grape varieties. Old-vine versions of carignan, for example, such as the vividly blackberry juicy version from Alain Grignon, show a completely different side to this often-derided Mediterranean red grape.

Viña Bisquertt Crazy Rows Carignan, Maule Valley, Chile 2020 (£7.90, Carignan was the most widely planted grape variety in France up until the end of the 20th century, although its popularity in the Midi had more to do with fecundity (it was capable of enormous yields in the southern sun) than quality (high-yielding young vines tended to bring wines with fearsome tannins and acidity and very little in the way of fruit flavour). Recent years have seen a lot of carignan uprooted in the Languedoc-Roussillon, while at the same time growers have learned to treasure the oldest vines (in the case of Alain Grignon, that’s 50 to 100 years old). Something very similar has happened in Chile’s Maule Valley, and today old-vine carignan is responsible for some of the country’s most deliciously individualistic wines, such as muscular succulence and squirt of fresh black fruit and liquorice in Viña Bisquertt’s Crazy Rows, the herby-earthy quality and berries of Viña Morande Adventure Vigno Carignan 2019 (£18.79,; and the chunky intensity of Torres Vigno Carignan 2016 (£13.99, Waitrose).

Cal Batllet 5 Partides, Gratallops, Priorat, Spain 2016 (£59.95, Back in the Mediterranean, a trail marked with rewarding old-vine carignan can be traced through the southern fringes of France and across the Pyrenees into Catalonia in northern Spain, starting with the bloody-meaty minerals and dark fruit of Le Clos de Gravillas Lo Vielh Carignan 2019 (£26.50, and the garrigue-fragrant Domaine Jones Vineyard Collection Carignan Old Vines 2018 (£18.99, in Tuchan in the Corbières and working down to the shimmering brambly intensity and sun-baked earthiness of 5 Partides, winemaker Marc Ripoll’s glorious red from southern Catalonia’s Priorat. It’s also a significant player in Sardinia, in rugged, liquorice-filled bottlings such as Sa Raja Carignano del Sulcis 2019 (£14.99, And this late-ripening, sun-loving grape also crops up in some of California’s best Rhône-inspired wines, such as the admirably adventurous Birichino’s dusky, savoury and compellingly slinky Scylla 2019 from Santa Cruz (£23.95,, where it is blended, as it often is in the Med, with a little grenache and Mourvèdre.

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