Obscure Wine Grapes: Carignan

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You know about Rhone and Rioja reds, but you may not have heard of the grapes that many of these wines are made with, Carignan, Mourvedre and Grenache. These grapes are seldom seen on wine labels, but they are all pretty common in the Rhone region of France as well as the rest of Europe. Mourvedre is also grown in Italy under the name Mataro, and Grenache is widely used in Spain, where its called Granacha. Carignan originated in Spain and was part of the Rioja blend.

Carignan is one of the world's most successful warm-weather grapes. It was transplanted to Algeria by the French. When Algeria won its independence, French wine growers began to plant Carignan in the South of France. Carignan is actually very common in California's Central Valley, where it is also known as Carignane. It's mainly used in box and jug wines, because the grape doesn't have any name recognition.

Becker's Prairie Roti Martin Vineyard is a great example of what you can do with the right grapes in Texas. Bright plum and currant flavors, an intense purple color, and lush texture with very little astringency, make this a very approachable wine. It's made from grapes grown on the sun-drenched High Plains of Texas, hence the name. Cote Rotie means "the roasted coast," a reference to the Cote Rotie region of the French Rhone district.

At $15 to $18, this wine is an excellent value. The Mediterranean grapes in Becker's Prairie Roti were planted by a far-sighted grower named Andy Martin, one of a growing cadre of viticultural pioneers who are turning the High Plains of Texas into one of America's up-and-coming wine grape regions.

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