The story begins in 1939, when central Chile was hit by an earthquake measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale. Thousands of people died and many livelihoods were lost, including those involved in the local wine industry. As part of its plan to help farmers get back on their feet following this disaster, the Ministry of Agriculture brought some French Carignan cuttings to Chile, with the idea of blending Carignan with Chile’s traditional wine grape, País, to produce red wines with greater colour, body and freshness. Farmers planted these vines in the traditional way, in blocks of free-standing bushes (gobelet-style) and they did not water them.

The years passed, viticulture moved on to favour neat lines of wire-trained international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and winemakers turned their backs on these rustically grown and seemingly uncommercial varieties. Then, in the 1990s, a handful of winemakers began to experiment with wines made from these old, dry-farmed Carignan grapes with outstanding results.

It turns out that the granitic, quartz-rich soils in the Maule region are ideal for Carignan, which also thrives on the climatic conditions. The winter rain gives the plants all the water they need. In the summer, the days are hot and the bush formation means that the leaves shade the grapes from the searing sun. The nights are cool and this slows down the ripening process, ensuring even greater concentration in the grapes.

All of these conditions result in low yields of concentrated red grapes which make exciting, medium to full-bodied and fruity wines with good acidity

Recognizing the potential of this very special wine, a group of wineries joined forces to develop an interesting wine marketing strategy. The name they came up with was “Vigno”, based on the Spanish word for wine (vino) with the “g” from Carignan inserted in the middle. Vigno is at the same time an association of wineries, a brand and a self-styled AOC.

To be able to label a bottle of wine “Vigno”, at least 65% of the blend must be from dry-farmed, bush-trained Carignan vines which are at least 30 years old and located in the Maule region. The other 35% can be any other variety of grape grown in Maule, so long as the Carignan character is not lost. The wines must be aged for at least 2 years prior to release.

These are mostly robust, acidic and fruity wines which pair well with strongly flavoured dishes featuring red meat and tomatoes. Try it with tomato-based dishes, like spaghetti Bolognese or sausage and tomato casserole or check out my recipe for Carne Mechada.

Miguel Torres Cordillera Vigno 2009: Intense, inky purple. Sour cherry nose with prunes underpinned by liquorice, bitter chocolate and a racy minerality. Teeth-coating, acidic cherry mouth with medium body and a long finish. Exciting.

De Martino Vigno 2008: Austere, cherry nose with a mouth-filling sweet jammy palate. Long in the finish. Very nice.

Odjfell Vigno 2010: Intense ruby. Cherry and raspberry nose peppered with spices. Fruity with astringent tannins and plenty of body.

Morandé Edición Limitada Carignan 2010: Intense earthy purple. Smoky nose with red fruit. Racy and smooth, with that delicious sour cherry and smoke following through into the finish.

Other producers of Vigno: Alcance, Garcia Schwaderer, De Martino, El Viejo Almacén, Garage Wine Co., Gillmore, Lapostolle, Lomas de Cauquenes, Meli, Undurraga, Valdivieso, Viña Roja

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