Cinsault Variety Update, 2019
Cinsault (sin-SOH or san-SOH) or Cinsaut (without the “l”) has become an important contributor to the grape variety portfolio of Texas winegrowers and winemakers. Because Cinsault is heat and drought tolerant, it can be grown in most Texas wine regions, especially the Texas High Plains AVA. Cinsault produces relatively large grapes with dark skins which typically translates into medium-bodied, modestly colored red wines with a softer, less tannic character. With its softness, fresh fruit aromas, and spicy flavors, Cinsault is often used to produce easy-drinking rosé wines and as a blending grape with other varieties, like Grenache, Carignan (care-in-yawn), Syrah, and Mourvèdre.
The origin of the grape is uncertain, but it likely came from some place along the eastern Mediterranean. Cinsault is widely grown in other warm arid climate wine regions, besides Texas, including those along the Mediterranean Coast of southern France (Rhone Valley and Languedoc-Roussillon), the Middle East, and northern Africa, including former French colonies of Algeria and Morocco. Cinsault is a common red grape grown in the Rhone Valley of southern France and is a component often blended into the big red wines produced there. Cinsault is a key component in Chateau Musar, the most famous wine from Lebanon, which has been widely recognized by wine lovers around the world.
In South Africa, Cinsault is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to generate softer, easier-drinking blends. Cinsault was once called “hermitage” in South Africa, and was one of the parent grapes, along with Pinot Noir, of that country’s most famous cross variety, Pinotage. Significant plantings of Cinsault also exist in Australia, where, again, it is used extensively in blends with Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Bechtold Vineyard in Lodi, CA, planted in 1885, contains the oldest Cinsault vines in the U.S. Cinsault has spread to other parts of CA with warmer climates, and plantings have been made in the hot, dry region of eastern Washington’s Columbia River Valley. Again, because of its heat and drought resistant characteristics, the varietal has raised a lot of interest in the southwestern U.S., i.e., Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas.
Cinsault vines can carry heavy croploads, upwards of 10 tons per acre, but better wines are produced when yields are controlled below 5-6 tons per acre. Cinsault can be susceptible to vine disease under moist, humid conditions, so it works best in a warm, arid climate (think Texas High Plains). It produces large cylindrical bunches of black grapes with fairly thick skins that can help darken the color when blending with lighter-colored wines. Cinsault adds structure, perfume, and a softness to rosé wines, and can often be the major component (there are lots of current rosé options in Texas that include Cinsault). Strawberry and ripe red cherry are primary aromas for Cinsault, and these follow through on the palate along with darker raspberry, currant and black cherry flavors. As Cinsault wines age, they take on a deep brick red color and flavors of grilled meat, salt brine, cocoa and espresso.
A new bottling of Cinsault (2017 vintage) from McPherson Cellars in Lubbock is currently available at 4.0 Cellars. The fruit was sourced from Lost Draw Vineyards near Brownfield, TX, Terry County, in the Texas High Plains AVA. The wine was fermented in SS tank (8 days) and skin contact was maintained for a total of 20 days to extract color, flavor, and tannin. Aging in SS tank with no oak contact was done to highlight the bright fruit. Bottled at 13.1% alcohol by volume with 0.4% residual sugar (essentially dry), this easy-drinking, flirtatious red shows off the seductive side of Cinsault, yet maintains enough body and tannin to pair with most food offerings and rich Veldhuizen Farm cheeses, also offered at the 4.0 Cellars Tasting Room on U.S. 290 east of Fredericksburg.
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