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The Cinsault Grape

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About Cinsault

(Synonyms: Black Malvoisie, Black Prince, Blue Imperial, Boudales, Bourdales Kek, Budales, Calibre, Chainette, Cincout, Cinq-sao, Cinquien, Cinsanet, Cinsaut, Cubilier, Cubillier, Cuviller, Espagne, Espagnol, Froutignan, Grappu De La Dordogne, Hermitage, Malaga Kek, Marocain, Maurange, Mavro Kara Melkii, Milhau, Morterille noire, Moustardier Noir, Navarro, Negru De Sarichioi, Oeillade, Oeillade noire, Ottavianello, Ottaviano, Ottavianello, Pampous, Papadou, Passerille, Pedaire, Picardan noir, Piquepoul D'Uzes, Picardin noir, Pis De Chevre, Plant D Arles Boudales, Plant D'Arles, Plant De Broqui, Plant De Broquies, Poupe De Crabe, Pousse De Chevre Rouge, Prolific, Prunaley, Prunelas, Prunella, Prunellas noir, Salerne, Samsó, Samson, Senso, Sensu, Strum, Takopulo Kara, Ulliaou, Ulliade, West's White)


Cinsault grapes Map showing he Hérault region of France

Cinsault is a red-wine grape apparently originating in the Hérault area of the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, though it could ultimately have come from farther away (the eastern Mediterranean). Nowadays, it is grown primarily (but not exclusively) in the Languedoc-Roussillon area of France, northern Africa (notably Algeria), South Africa, and the U.S. (particularly around Lodi). Its growth habit is such that it is especially well suited for hot, dry climates (hence its use in North Africa and even Lebanon).

Cinsault wines tend to be quite fruit-forward, strongly aromatic, lightly tinted, and of medium body and weight: "pretty", as Jancis Robinson describes them. The usual taste descriptors involve the lighter-red berry family. It tends to be low in tannins, and is usually best drunk while young.

Factoid: Cinsault was formerly known in South Africa as "Hermitage"; under that name, it became one of the two parent grapes (the other being Pinot Noir) of that country's now popular Pinotage varietal.

Some Descriptions of Cinsault Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Cinsaut or Cinsault is a red wine grape, whose heat tolerance and productivity make it important in Languedoc-Roussillon and the former French colonies of Algeria and Morocco. It is often blended with grapes such as Grenache and Carignan to add softness and bouquet."

  • Wine Searcher

    "Cinsaut (often spelled Cinsault) is a dark-skinned grape variety traditionally used as a blending partner for Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre as part of the classic 'southern Rhone blend'. It is fairly unusual to see Cinsaut produced as a varietal wine, except as a rosé . . . Cinsaut vines have been grown for centuries in southern France, where it is one of the permitted minor grape varieties in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend. . . Cinsaut brings wines are generally low in tannin and generally used in blends for its perfume. It shares much in common with Grenache and at one time was grown for its generous yields. Light red berries are the most commonly associated flavor descriptors."

  • Forgotten Grapes

    "[T]his particular grape is posh, feminine, hearty and produces some awfully good single varietal wine, even if she very rarely given the chance to strut her stuff solo. . . Which is a shame, because she truly does make a remarkable wine on its own - soft, supple, richly perfumed, and highly feminine yet still exceptionally drinkable. It sometimes makes you wonder what the wine world has against Cinsault, why it continues to sell the grape short again and again. . . The very first thing you’re going to notice on a Cinsault is just how soft the wine is. It has a particularly velvety mouth feel and very little tannic pull to dry out your mouth. It is a feminine wine in just about every way, shape, and form. Flavor-wise, you’ll get the same strawberries from the nose, but also some slightly darker red fruits: raspberries, currents, and Bing cherries moving from red into black. In older Cinsault and those from more drought-ridden Mediterranean climates, the flavors may be completely different – drier, hardly any fruit, a much meatier, saltier flavor to the wine with a darker cocoa or coffee-esque aftertaste. But those are generally rarer exceptions. From the more Old-World style Cinsault, it will be bright, light red berries and super softness along the tongue and mouth."

  • Professional Friends of Wine

    "Cinsaut is one of those 'grower' varieties that easily produces a very large crop of 6 to 10 tons per acre. At this crop level, it offers little sensory interest and imperceptible flavor distinction. So much cinsaut is overcropped and used as "filler" that it is difficult for many wine critics to issue it any respect. When properly managed to a crop load of just 2 to 4 tons per acre, it can produce quite flavorful wines with penetrating aroma and soft tannins, easily quaffable in their youth. . . Wine made from cinsaut grapes can be very aromatic with a vaporous perfume that assails the nostrils and supple texture that soothes the palate. Fairly low in tannin, it is often made into rosé by itself or blended, to brighten the fruit and tone down the harsher edges of carignan, in particular."

  • Serious Eats

    "In other parts of the world, Cinsault is treated today mostly as a blending grape. But Cinsault can be tasted on its own terms, alone in a bottle of wine, most readily from California. The Bechthold Vineyard might be the oldest living planting of Cinsault on the planet, and it certainly is in North America. Cinsault's spice, reminiscent of peppercorn and cardamom, and its bright red fruit does well with grilled vegetables, or grilled light meats like pork and chicken. But the wine also loves the creamy, distinctive flavors of a mild Thai curry, or the fried dough and potato-love-fest of samosa. After all, the grape is a world traveler. It likes to complement foods of many cultures. "

  • Vin de France

    "Cinsault is also a charmer through its non-aggressive, soft, fruity aromas. The main notes encountered are peach, raspberry, gooseberry, pomegranate, strawberry and nectarine. By limiting Cinsault’s yield, wine growers obtain wonderful wines of great personality that are rich, full-bodied and lush. Behind its brilliant, rose-petal color lie fruity notes. Wines made from Cinsault are at their most seductive when young. They are lively and full-bodied on the palate. When blended with Grenache, the strength of Cinsault’s alcohol is tempered. When blended with Carignan, its [Carignan's] bitterness is attenuated. "

  • The Wine Cellar Insider

    "When growers work with the variety and reduce yields, Cinsaut delivers floral and ripe strawberry notes."

  • Winery Sage

    "Cinsault is lighter in color than many of the other Rhone Varietals and in warmer temperatures can turn brick red not unlike Nebbiolo rather than the burgundy to purple color of most other Red wines. Its flavor, which is low in tannins, is often described as 'soft'. Cinsault is highly fragrant for a Red wine, which is why it is popular component in blends or added as a flavoring agent in Varietals. It's often made into a Rose wine. Because it is lighter in tannins, Cinsault is not suited for long bottle aging so it should be enjoyed between 5 and 7 years after vintage."

  • Rhone Rangers

    "A high-yielding, early-ripening, hot-weather red grape, generally used in blends. Cinsault tends to be low in tannin, and is often added to blends to add a spicy component. Not often found as a varietal bottling."

Some Cinsaults to Try

(About this list.)

The preponderance of Cinsaults available in the U.S. are from California, mostly from around Lodi, and much of that from the one famous Bechtold vineyard. The problem is the standard one with unusual varietals made in the U.S.: they are scarce, and quite expensive when found. If we first take out wines over our arbitrary upper limit of $20, and then take out wines apparently (from wine search engines) available only from one or two retailers, there isn't much left in the way of monovarietal Cinsaults. (And even some of these are either uncommon at retail or right at the edge of the price range.)

For those willing to go at least a little higher in price, say up to $25, and to take the trouble to seek out hard-to-find wines, some other names to look for are—in no special order—Frick Winery Dry Creek Valley Cinsaut, Turley Wine Cellars Bechtoldt Vineyard Cinsault, and Phoenix Ranch Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault. And you may see others at retail, too; if so, the word "Bechthold" on the lable is a good sign.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Domaine des Terres Falmet Cinsault, Vin De Pays d'Oc, $10 - $14.

    Some quotations and facts:

    I found this wine actually richer and more flattering than most Cinsaults (for this can be a shy varietal - yes, varietal, I refer to the wine not the vine). I really loved the crunchy texture and could think of no better introduction to this delicate, perfumed southern French grape. I'd happily drink it, sometimes lightly chilled, at any time over the next two years, with or without food. It has 13.5% alcohol according to the label and certainly doesn't taste too taxing.

    I fell in love with it for 2 reasons: 1st: because I though that it was a lovely red wine, quite juicy, with good acidity, a touch rustic with some tannins toward the end, but overall really enjoyable and definitely food friendly, and more especially not overripe or overdone like some Languedoc wines can be (sometimes). 2nd: because, this nice wine is made with 100% Cinsault which is definitely not a common thing to see or taste, and I was really intrigued and surprised to find such a rare and distinctive wine that good at this price (under $15) . . The robe is clean, bright ruby red with light intensity. The nose is quite expressive and inviting, Garrigues-like with freshly crushed wild red and dark berries aromas, touch floral, earthy and mineral. Overall light to medium bodied, the palate is quite lush with darker berries flavors than the nose, like blackberry, ripe dark cherry and blueberry, nicely lifted by a great acidity which adds balance, freshness and juiciness, especially in the mid-palate. Calling for another glass, the lingering finish is dry and earthy, a touch spicy, with present yet integrated, soft tannins. Food friendly and an easy drinking, this intriguing and attractive little wine offers a complexity not often found in wines in this category.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 89 points.

    Garnet, with a pale violet edge. Strawberries and red apple skin, attractive fruit with just a hint of the earthy scent that the French call "sous bois" ("under the woods"), an evocative aroma that evokes thoughts of walks in a forest on a hot summer day. More good strawberry fruit and earth on the palate, "rainwater over rocks" minerality and soft but substantial tannins, balanced with sufficient acidity and more tart strawberries in the finish. Very interesting and complex, a fine demonstration of pure 100 percent varietal Cinsault in a rare solo performance.

    The wine is a deep colour as expected from the Languedoc, it has black and red fruit aromas with a sprinkle of leather and spice. On the palate the wine is fresh, fruity and the tannins stalky but fine grained and soft, the alcohol offers good structural support along with the tannins. Great flavour intensity, again with black and red fruits, spice and supple leather and earthiness. The length is good if a little flat and the tannins are present to the end.

    Light red color with muted red berries on the nose. Very light-bodied, smooth and thin with hints of strawberry and not much else. There's a bit of earthiness but not much else is coming through. Not unpleasant, but a completely "blah" wine. Non-existent fruit. A quiet, shy wine that hides in the corner and has nothing to say. Retails around $12. Two emphatic thumbs down. 80 points.

    [M]edium bodied dry red with lovely aromas and flavors of wild strawberry. Great tasting red for summer time foods and veggies.

    Garnet, with a pale violet edge. Strawberries and red apple skin, attractive fruit with just a hint of the earthy scent that the French call "sous bois" ("under the woods"), an evocative aroma that evokes thoughts of walks in a forest on a hot summer day. More good strawberry fruit and earth on the palate, "rainwater over rocks" minerality and soft but substantial tannins, balanced with sufficient acidity and more tart strawberries in the finish. Very interesting and complex, a fine demonstration of pure 100 percent varietal Cinsault in a rare solo performance. . . A surprisingly complex wine for this price tag.

  • Chateau L'Argentier Vieilles Vignes de Cinsault, Vin de Pays du Gard, $13 - $17.
    (Regrettably few reviews available.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Cinsault as the featured varietal is rare and, in the case of the L’Argentier, a fascinating example. It is funky, fresh, complex, and full of life. Not a heavy weight rather it is delicate and pretty with plenty of cherry fruits, baking spices, and earth.

    Château L’Argentier, Vieilles Vignes de Cinsault from the Languedoc, is another unusual and delectable wine. Cinsault is a dark-skinned grape that is low in tannins with moderate acidity. These wine grapes can also be eaten as table grapes. Cinsault has a flavor profile of light red berries, red flower blossoms, and red plums. It is lively and fresh and light enough to pair with smoked oysters and salmon but sturdy enough to be served with Moroccan lamb and couscous.

  • De Martino Viejas Tinajas Cinsault (Itata Valley), $17 - $21.
    (A Chilean wine.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    This is the most extraordinary wine - extraordinary in a very good way indeed. It's made from the delicate Cinsault grapes grown on bushvines in the far south of Chile 400 km south of the capital Santiago that have been fermented and aged in centenarian clay jars, the tinajas for which Valdepeñas, for example, was once famous. De Martino, one of the most dynamic and enterprising of Chile's many enterprising and experimental companies, say they are reviving an ancient tradition with this unusual winemaking technique - though thanks to the increasing prevalence of amphorae and eggs in wineries all over the world, it is becoming more and more familiar. What bewitched me about the wine was nothing to do with the winemaking detail (though I must confess to a penchant for well-vinified Cinsault) but the taste of the wine itself. Pale purple, it's so fresh and pure that it washes over the palate like the gentlest of waves, I felt. Obviously in an impressionist mood that day. I gave a case to my literary agent and he's in love with it too. It's the sort of summer red that would be delighted to be served cool, and has no tough tannin so could be drunk without food as well as with fish. I'd guess by the vintage that it has been designed for early drinking but I wouldn't panic - in fact I'd be curious - if I still had some around in two or three years' time. . . 'Pale crimson. Wild, sour-cherry aroma, wild herbs, just slightly earthy. Lovely delicacy and fine dry tannins. Naturally refined and delicate rather than cleverly polished but still a wine for quaffing and early drinking. Firm, slightly earthy finish. Underlying concentration shows more in length than in any demonstration of power. Light, scented and complex and delicious very slightly chilled.

    De Martino is one of Chile's more adventurous producers, but this wine is novel even for them. It takes an unfashionable grape variety (cinsault) grown in a lesser-known southern Chilean region (Itata) and ages it in clay amphorae, rather than oak barrels. The results are delicious: a spicy, supple red with a herbal twist that is an ideal match for bangers and mash.

    I don't want to overstate the case here, but this could be the start of a Chilean red wine revolution. It's unusual in at least three respects: it's made from old vine, unirrigated Cinsault grown in the cool southerly region of Itata, it was fermented in amphorae and it has a lowly (for Chile) 13% alcohol. The result is is a refreshing, juicy, balanced, cherry and raspberry fruity red of great finesse and length. A welcome relief from over-oaked, over-alcoholic Chilean reds. 92 points.

    This is made in tinajas, but has only one month maceration on the skins. It's then pressed and put back into the tinajas, and for the local market no SO2 is added at all, even at bottling (export versions get a little SO2 at bottling). Fresh, supple and expressive with bright, primary cherry and berry fruits. Very fresh and vivid with bright, lively berry fruits and some grippiness. A lovely vivid wine. 92/100

    Very good wine with lush black berries over both fresh and dried herbs with notes of violets. The medium tannins are mature but grippy. The fruit has good concentration and medium intensity. The wine is balanced, with fine structure and good complexity. Drink now and for 3-4 years.

    Made with minimal intervention in large earthenware jars, the juicy cherry, fresh herbs and elegantly grainy palate makes for a lissom experience. 17.5pts/20 (91/100pts).

    Made from old cinsault vines in amphorae, this is a distinctive Chilean red, with juicy summer pudding fruit.

    This wine is 100% Cinsault from old bush vines on granite soils fermented with indigenous yeasts in 100-year old earthen ware amphora. No pumps are used to remove the wine from the tinajas. Alcohol 13%. The nose was of red strawberries. In the mouth the red fruit showed some hard candy and a good, ripe core. There was watering acidity, inky notes, and a generally cool aspect. There were moderate and ripe tannins in the structure, some levity, and it eventually developed approachable notes of baking spices. This was best after one hour of air. ***

  • Birichino Bechthold Vineyard Old Vines Cinsault, Mokelumne River, $18 - $19.

    Some quotations and facts:

    The old Cinsault vines from this Lodi site are ever better known, and the team at Birichino has finessed one of the best examples yet from Bechthold. Fragrant, full of orris root and dust, and crushed blueberry fruit. Warm and perfectly savory.

    Alex Krause and John Locke, the folks behind the Birichino label, are fellow appreciators of old vines, using Bechtold cinsault in various blends and in a unique, varietal bottling. . . However, with 130 years of age, these 130-year-old dry farmed vines reveal a more nuanced side to cinsault. Krause and Locke practice unobtrusive winemaking—their cinsault is wild yeast fermented in neutral barrel, and despite the warmth of inland Lodi County and thanks to dry farming and great viticulture, it comes in at only 12 percent alcohol. This wine is fresh, dry, light-bodied, and perfumed with the scent of scrubby herbs and rhubarb.

    At 12 percent alcohol, it is light as angel wings, an ethereal silken creation that very gradually reveals a mysterious perfume of orange zests and red currents. It also induces complex dreams. No, it's not for everybody. Not for you Hemingways who require high gauge jammyness that jumps out of the bottle. It will not do well with marinara. It would love Dungeness crab. It is something you must try, at least once.

    Of all the six [wines tasted], my favorite was the Birichino Cinsault from the cult vineyard Bechthold in Lodi. . . This wine had a multilayered depth to it not usually found in Cinsault.

  • Michael David Winery Ancient Vine Cinsault, $20 - $24.
    (Just barely within the price range; from Lodi, California.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    A dry and sleek red wine with forward yet cozy fruit, a faint suggestion of spice and a surprisingly long finish.

    Truly old vine - Michael David's dry-farmed, head-trained 127 year old vineyard showcases the Cinsault grape in all of its fruit-driven glory. Lighter in style, medium in body, and easy on the tannin, the Ancient Vine Cinsault brings well-ripened, red fruit-forward wine brings an understated elegance to the glass with pretty aromatics and choice cherry fruit.

    Once in a while some very cool stuff sneaks in. The Michael and David Winery's 2010 Ancient Vine Cinsault is exactly that. What a beauty! The nose is black cherry fruit with tar underpinnings. The mild mouth is layered in cherry, wood, spice and delicious lingering depth. There are lots of facets here. It reminds me of a great Cotes du Rhone with pinot noir overtones. Cinsault is not your everyday varietal, and it is rarely seen on its own.

    This marks a real departure for Michael David, a producer that tends to make its wines big and bold. This soft, hardly oaked, lightly tannic Cinsault is from a very special old vineyard. With a smooth texture and a core of red cherry and cranberry flavors, it is light-bodied and very floral. 88 points.

    You just don’t see cinsault bottled by itself – even in France it’s a blending grape. But the vineyards for this wine were planted in 1875 and managed to dodge the phylloxera plague because root louses don’t like sandy loam soil. Over the years, the grapes were sold to other winemakers, including Helen Turley. It’s a stunner with cranberry and cherry flavors, fine tannins and a dash of spice.

    Michael David's 2009 Ancient vine cinsault, from the leased Bechthold vineyard, is medium to full bodied, with sweetly refined red cherry notes with black pepper and spice. This wine is fresh, simple and honest. Retailing at $20, it is well worth the price.

    Really light but packed with flavor. Some raspberry, a little blueberry, and a little herb at the end. Good acidity. Probably could’ve used a few more years to calm down a little but felt very lively. Really liked it and kind of perfect for a light fall wine.

    The 2011 Michael David Winery Ancient Vine Cinsault was a revelation. This smooth, light-bodied wine starts out softly on the palate, with red cherry and cranberry fruit, and a light oak accent, and builds on the finish to a surprising depth of flavor. This wine is made with fruit from 128-year-old vineyards, Lodi’s oldest producing vineyard, and some of the oldest Cinsault vines in the world. It channels the intensity of old vine beautifully, at $20 a bottle.

    This wine is light ruby red in color to pink at the rim. On the nose it has explosive aromas of pomegranates, cranberries, watermelon and cherry jubilee. On the palate it is medium bodied, with crisp acidity and a hint of herbs and anise on the finish. The general profile of this wine is not typical for this varietal as it is almost rosé-like and could undoubtedly be enjoyed slightly chilled.

For a Splurge

The most obvious choice here is the expensive and scarce Scholium Project "1MN" Bechtold Ranch Vineyard Cinsaut, which goes for something like $55 a bottle.

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