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Hot Rhônes: Syrah & Carignan

No group of grape varieties has generated as much enthusiasm among winemakers recently as Rhône varieties. So great is the demand for them that interested wineries scramble to find the best vineyard sites and then must guard them closely. Home winemakers have always had a tough time finding high-quality fruit and with Rhône varieties, the search can be even tougher…but not impossible. Several Rhône grapes, such as Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Carignan, have been planted in California for decades and so acreage actually exists. Others, such as Syrah, Viognier, and Rousanne, are relatively recent arrivals, and much that has been planted has been done at wineries’ request. Still, it is possible to find these grapes and they are certainly worth searching out. Syrah and Carignan make an interesting pair to consider from a production point of view. They occupy almost opposite positions on the esteem spectrum. Syrah produces some of the most highly regarded red wines in the world. Carignan has the dubious distinction of being limited to a maximum of 30 percent of the most basic Côtes du Rhône wines.