Open and bright, with soft tannins and ripe red fruit notes, Cinsault (or Cinsaut) is often used as a blending grape. Historically, when wine fashions have turned bigger and bolder, its roots have been ripped out across Languedoc-Roussillon, Rhône and Provence: It went from a peak of more than 125,000 acres in the late 1970s to less than 50,000 acres today. But as warmer vintages become more frequent, some of the variety’s “flaws” are increasingly seen as desirable qualities. Its yields can become too high, especially in young vines, but Cinsault manages to retain acidity and keep its sugars low in even the hottest conditions, providing much-needed freshness to red wines and rosés. In Provence, the variety can make up a significant proportion of the latter.
In other parts of the world, Cinsault is not necessarily a new grape, but it is getting fresh attention due to stylistic trends toward lighter wines. Keep an eye out for old-vine bottlings that might express a little spice and meatiness.
Beyond being one of the parent grapes of Pinotage, Cinsault’s 4,200 or so acres make it important here. It’s often used to make thirst-quenching reds with alcohol levels under 13%, like those of Leeuwenkuil Family Vineyards, Flotsam & Jetsam, Bosman Family Vineyards, The Blacksmith or Badenhorst Family Wines. Old-vine cuvées like Badenhorst’s Ramnsagras, The Sadie Family’s Poffader, Savage Wines’s Follow the Line and Naudé’s Old Vines Cinsault show how complex and ageworthy the grape can be.
The oldest surviving vines of Cinsault in the world are from an 1886 planting at Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi, found in varietal bottlings by Turley Wine Cellars and Birichino. Acreage remains low, but small cuvées emerge regularly, like Hatcher Winery Cinsault Rosé from Calaveras County or Frick Winery’s Dry Creek Valley Cinsault. Outside of California, Cinsault also draws interest in states like Arizona, Texas and Washington.
In Australia, a 1978 wine guide referred to Cinsault as “used, mostly in South Australia, to lend mediocrity to otherwise good wine.” Fortunately, a few dozen producers hold it in better esteem, and though most of it is a minor blend component, there are some delicious old-vine bottlings by the likes of Brash Higgins and Shobbrook Wines.