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Cinsaut or Cinsault? Why the SA heritage varietal is enjoying a global revival

cinsault cinsaut grapes

Cinsaut or Cinsault? Why the SA heritage varietal is enjoying a global revival

One of the most fascinating stories fuelling the current South African wine revolution is the rise of Cinsaut… or is it Cinsault? We often find both spellings used interchangeably and both spellings are considered correct in South Africa. The latter is the French spelling and refers to its Languedoc-Roussillon (coastal region in southern France) origin, while the former encapsulates its modern-day global renaissance.

Cinsaut has recently re-emerged within the South African wine industry as both a blending component and single grape varietal, after a history of being a somewhat less revered grape in the winemaking world. We wondered why and spoke to some of the experts who are using the grape more prolifically, and to perhaps more interesting ends than has always been the case…

We started with Adam Mason, as he’s making a fantastic blend called “The Old School” in which he plays with the lesser known fact that traditional Cabernet Sauvignons in South Africa were blended with Cinsaut, without this being stated on the label.

(Adam is a legend in the industry and to some needs no introduction. To those who do, he’s the winemaker of his own label, Raised by Wolves, as well as the bigger brand Mulderbosch, and previously worked as winemaker at Klein Constantia.)

On his Old School Blend, Adam has said:

“Having enjoyed many SA ‘Cabernet Sauvignons’ from the 1960s and 1970s I was enthralled to discover that many of these old gems included a far greater percentage of Cinsaut than Cabernet such was the shortage of Cabernet Sauvignon vines in production at the time. The laws legislating label declarations conveniently allowing these wines to be labelled as Sauvignon. Given my respect for Cinsaut and its heritage status in the South African wine story, I have always wanted to explore these ‘Old School’ blends. It is both incredulous and thought provoking to consider that big berried, low acid Cinsaut has the ability to not only preserve, but vastly improve the King of red grapes.”

We chatted to Adam to find out more.

“The reason Cinsaut is so loved in this country (and others areas like the Rhone and the Mediterranean – including Lebanon) is its ease of cultivation, its ability to withstand dry conditions, and its ability to produce a consistently good yield for many years.”

“Strictly speaking, I use Cabernet Sauvignon as a blending component in my Cinsaut!” (not the other way around).

In South Africa, Cinsaut was once known as Hermitage and was famously crossed with Pinot Noir in 1925 to create Pinotage, the famous South Africa grape (hence the portmanteau name, from ‘pinot’ plus ‘-tage’). Cinsaut was a versatile grape which could be used for making a range of styles from white wines, rosés, dry and sweet red wines to brandy and port.

During the 1970s, and especially earlier, many of the red wines produced were boosted with a percentage of Cinsaut. Regardless of how small or large, this percentage played a role in creating a certain aroma and flavour profile and forms an intricate part of South Africa’s red wine history. Cinsaut delivers floral and ripe strawberry notes as well as hints of dried fruit. The late ripening grape, due to its natural, low level of tannin and acidity, coupled with strong aromatic quality is often used in the production of Rose in Provence.

Cinsaut is a black wine grape that thrives in hot, dry climates. It is one of the most planted varieties in Southern France, though it is generally a workhorse grape that is blended with other classic Rhône varieties such as Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. This is because for many years Cinsaut was overshadowed by a range of other varietals, and so it never truly featured amongst the forefront of the fashionable or most trendy. Rather, it quietly played its own, unique and remarkable role in the background of South African wines. It was used predominantly as a bulk wine variety and its focus was to increase volumes of wine produced. In the early South African industry volume outweighed the quality aspect and Cinsaut became known for its ability to yield high tonnage.

But now it is definitely enjoying a new wave of appreciation among the locals! Thanks, most certainly to winemakers like the legendary Adam Mason, young maverick Lukas van Loggerenberg and the prolific team at Radford Dale.

“We use Cinsaut 100% on its own. We do a blanc de noir called Break a leg and a dry red called Geronimo. Cinsaut though is one of the best blending varieties. Is softens wines nicely and lifts the fruit profile of the wines. Because of its great ‘user friendliness’, most people can relate to it, it’s soft, elegant and drinks very nicely” says Lukas Van Loggerenberg, of Van Loggerenberg Wines and winemaker for Carinus.

This grape has sparked the interest of younger generation winemakers to once again pursue the variety and attempt to revolutionize and reintroduce this stalwart not only viticulturally and viniculturally, but also to consumers.

With its palate of bright red berries, spices and surprising structure and longevity, Cinsault is the perfect gateway grape. Lukas describes it as “very perfumed on the nose, mixed with great elegant fruit flavors, even some earthiness. The palate is very soft and elegant with great honest fruit.  With the right friends it’s very easy to make a few bottles disappear!”

Alex Dale talks about his Radford Dale Thirst Cinsaut: “Our cinsault is naturally made – this means it has a lower alcohol percentage and almost no additives. This single site variety is  quirky and refreshing!”

Not into wine? Drink Cinsault. Not into reds? Drink Cinsault. Only feel like opening one bottle tonight? Drink Cinsault.

What you drink it with could also change your perception. Adam Mason suggests “enjoying it with smokey foods. Wood-fired pizzas, braaied meats, but my favourite is braaied salted lamb ribs served with a squeeze of lemon juice. All the fat, the juicy fruit, the zippy lemon, and the scents of wood smoke…I find it succulent. Cinsaut is light in tannin structure and has this juicy character, and a slight sweet sour thing going on. Often people pick up plummy flavours, but I find it can have confected flavours and sometimes a little bit of cola tonic too – it is so fokken lekker!” Hmmm! Sounds remarkable.

The first new-wave Cinsauts hit the market no more than 5 years ago – there could now be as many as 40 bottlings – and much of the industry was astonished by the enthusiasm of its promoters.

With over a hundred years of ups and downs Cinsault has left an indelible mark on the South African wine industry. It sticks out as one of the most enjoyable, drinkable and unique tasting varieties to date. We are happy to say that it seems Cinsault is here to stay – and we’re excited about it.

Order from our Cinsault single varietals, blends and mixed cases

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