One Grape 3 Ways: Cinsault

One of those red grapes that sloshed around the western Mediterranean for a few hundred years and always seems to end up in blends, cinsault isn’t an obvious candidate for a class all to itself. It wasn’t until I’d had enough single-variety expressions of the grape that I really loved that I started to get curious enough to dig a little deeper.

Cinsault was born in the Languedoc; it’s closely related to other old specialties of that neck of the woods like piquepoul and counoise and tibouren, and by the 1600s it had hitched a ride on Catalán trading ships, from there to Sicily and Puglia, where it has some very obscure local names. (Grecaù, ottavianello; this will not be on the exam.)

These days, apart from being lost in Provençal rosé, you’ll find it on the red granite hills of Itata, in southern Chile; in South Africa, where it was brought over by Huguenots; and in Algeria, where it was the backbone of the French settler viticulture that ended up producing oceans of wine bottled as Burgundy at the beginning of the 20th century.

Why is it so often blended away? Well, like pais, it’s fertile and has big bunches and big berries, so it doesn’t give a lot of color, which people trying to pretend their dilute bulk wine is punchy and rich generally hate. Really pretty aromatics, though. So why might it be interesting?

Eric Texier, for one, is moving away from grenache and towards cinsault these days as a preference because in a warming climate wines from cinsault are more “jolie,” he says. That is, unlike grenache, which loves sun and loves being boozy and loves to get ultra-ripe and syrupy, cinsault has this lifted, fresh elegance and pretty florals and drinkability that can be really lovely coming from places we don’t necessarily associate with those charms. And like a lot of varieties that are prolific and easy to misuse for industrial purposes, it’s not often given the chance to grow in an interesting, characterful, steep patch of land with living soils where somebody pays attention to it.

But if they did…?!

Class was on Friday, January 15. These were the wines:

How you might see it on a wine list
Domaine Ledogar, cinsault, “Les Brunelles”, Languedoc, France

Who made it? Xavier & Mathieu Ledogar, working around 20 hectares of old vines (Xavier took over the family domaine in 1997 and started bottling their own wine instead of selling to the co-op in 1998)
Out of what? Cinsault planted in 1948 on reddish clay over limestone (certified organic 2006, certified biodynamic 2021) in Corbières
Made how? Not 100% sure! Very little info on this bottling. It seems to undergo a very short 4-day maceration during primary fermentation and then ageing in vats, either steel or fiberglass. Little to no sulfur addition (11mg/L total).

How you might see it on a wine list
Los Viñateros Bravos, cinsault, “El Túnel”, Itata, Chile

Who made it? Leonardo Erazo
Out of what? A single 0.4 hectare parcel of cinsault on reddish granite west of Guarilihue, in the Itata river valley in southern Chile, planted in 1959.
Made how? Whole cluster native yeast fermentation and aging in concrete vat, bottled with 10ppm SO2 and a coarse filtration.

How you might see it on a wine list
Martin Texier, “Le Preyna”, Rhône, France

Who made it? Martin Texier
Out of what? An old parcel of cinsault with some grenache over granite outside of St.-Julien en St.-Alban, where the northern Rhône ends and the south begins. 
Made how? Pressed and fermented separately in concrete tanks and then blended before bottling, minimal SO2 addition. 

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