Cinsault - The Secret Scene Stealer
When you read Cinsault, you’d be forgiven for thinking more gymnastics than grape. Everyone’s heard of a somersault (and attempted some in their time) but Cinsault is one of the hidden gems of grape varieties that almost nobody has heard of. So, why do you need to know about it? When it comes to winemaking, it’s not a leading lady but rather the brilliant supporting actor who makes the whole film something to admire, so if you’re going to be that person who brings ‘knock your socks off’ wine to the party, it’s good to be able to spot a star.
What’s the story in all its glory?
Let’s begin with pronunciation. It’s san-so (now aren’t you feeling cultured and cool, and a little aware of your attempt at a French accent?).
Cinsault is ALL about the sun. It loves the heat, so it’s not surprising to know that it began life in the south of France. Since then, it’s branched out to similar climates, finding a growing home in Australia, Algeria, and South Africa (where it’s called Hermitage, more on that later). What does all the love of sunbathing do? It fills the grapes with bright summer fruit flavours and get them ripe nice and early. They also grow in huge amounts (called “yield” in wine-speak). So, why isn’t Cinsault wine everywhere given it’s full of flavour and so abundant? The answer to that is that it’s much more suited to blending.
You’ll have heard of Châteaneuf-du-Pape, and Côtes du Rhone, both of which often use a little Cinsault in the blend to add aroma and flavour that you just can’t get from the dominant grapes in the bottle.
But it’s in rosé where Cinsault has its real starring role. Many of the best rosé wines from Provence, Languedoc, and Rhone use Cinsault to add oomph to the fruit flavours that great pink wines need to become favourites of the summer. The typical flavours of the grape (strawberry, raspberry, and peach) are absolute people pleasers, and the low tannin nature of the grape means you get a big hit of fruit with every gulp. It’s like being tangoed (for those who remember the advert) though being cinsault-ed sounds rather more aggressive than you might care for. Nevertheless, one hit from a cinsault-heavy wine, and you’re in summer fruit heaven.
We did mention Hermitage earlier, and we’ll explore that caveat now. Cinsault was widely planted in South Africa when winemaking in the country became popular. Called Hermitage, the grape was eventually crossbred with Pinot Noir (a long story for another time) to create Pinotage, a bit of a love it or hate it wine that isn’t Cinsault but knows where it came from.
What should you be looking out for?
If you go to the shop in search of 100% Cinsault wine, you’ll probably leave empty-handed. It’s not that they don’t exist, but they are few and far between, partly because most Cinsault goes into blends, and partly because there are better red options out there (Pinot Noir, we’re looking at you!)
But if you’ve a little time to indulge in selecting your wine, and you take a peek at the grape percentages, the more cinsault you see, the more you can expect bright fruit flavours in your glass. If this is your bag (it’s certainly ours when we’re looking for easy drinking) then it’s worth that extra time investment.
On a hunt for perfect pink rosé, you’ll find Cinsault in most bottles from Provence (there is a reason that Provence is the classic rosé choice, and much of that is Cinsault related), but many non-Provencal rosés have risen up to challenge for the title of queen of pinks. It’s always worth a look at the label to determine what will work for you. If it’s summer sipping, more Cinsault can be wonderful as you can enjoy all the flavours unimpacted by food. If you’re enjoying dinner in the garden, a 10% - 30% Cinsault content offers plenty of flavour without insisting on itself.
When it comes to red blends from the Rhone valley, the Cinsault is less likely to have a big impact. In reds it’s often more of a subtle hint at summer, but this can be lovely, especially when food pairing is taken into consideration.
What’s it good with?
If you look online, you’ll be told that the classic pairing for Cinsault heavy wines is escargot. We know, it’s an acquired taste to say the least. Thankfully (for those not too keen on foods that get about on slime) there are plenty of other pairing options. Some of our favourites include sun-bathing, picnics (food not necessarily required) and beachside with a book and the sound of the waves. You’ll also be very happy with any delicate seafood, charcuterie, and sharp tomatoes.
What are the best examples?
Our absolute favourites where Cinsault variety are:
Mas de Cadenet, 2020, Côtes de Provence Rosé – Classic Provence pink with luscious fruit and floral flavours
Côtes de Thau Rosé, 2020, Maison Boutinot – Perfect pale pink for summer sipping,
Côtes du Rhône Rouge, 2018, Domaine de la Présidente – Fresh red fruit and neat tannins
La Pierre du Diables Rosé, 2020, Rhonea Artisans Vignerons – Devilishly fruity rosé that demands you finish it.