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Cinsault cluster.Cinsaut

Cinsaut (or Cinsault) is most often used as a blending grape with other types. France has more Cinsaut planted (50,000 hectares) than Cabernet Sauvignon and there is as much Cinsaut acreage planted in its former backdoor wine colony of Algeria.

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.

The tight bunches rot easily, so it does best in drier climes. The cinsaut vine is fairly drought tolerant and has a fairly short growing season. With cluster stems that easily detach from the vine, cinsaut adapts well to machine harvesting. Large, black, thin-skinned, fleshy berries make cinsaut also attractive as eating grapes.

It is one of the most often planted varieties in Southern France (Bandol and the Languedoc), Algeria and Morocco, and is a major red variety in Corsica, Lebanon, South Africa, and Tunisia. It can also be found scattered around Italy and Eastern Europe. Cinsault leaf.The North African plantings were particularly important when, as colonies of France, their wine was shipped across the Mediterranean for blending. Even Australia has some cinsaut planted, although it has yet to achieve popularity there.

The grape was originally known as "Hermitage" in South Africa (confusing, since the famed French Hermitage is entirely Syrah). When a South African professor crossed cinsaut with Pinot Noir, he therefore named it Pinotage (now the country's signature red wine). Cinsaut was the most widely planted red variety in South Africa until it was overtaken by cabernet sauvignon during the last decade of the 20th Century.

First imported to California in the 1860s, it was known as Black Malvoise and, blended with Zinfandel, labeled "Claret". Somehow surviving past Prohibition, it was made as wine into the 1960s, sometimes labeled Malvasia Nero. Acreage peaked in 1971 to a total of 810 statewide, but current surveys count less than 150.

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. Although officially sanctioned in Châteauneuf du Pape, it is used by only a few producers in their blends.

*Typical Cinsault Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors
*Typicity depends upon individual tasting ability and experience and is also affected by terroir and seasonal conditions, as well as viticultural and enological techniques. This list therefore is merely suggestive and neither comprehensive nor exclusive.

Varietal Aromas/Flavors:

Processing Bouquets/Flavors:

Fruit: strawberry, red cherry

Terroir: musk, meat


Oak (light): vanilla, coconut, sweet wood

Vegetal: (atypical) Oak (heavy): oak, smoke, toast, tar
Spice: perfume, paint Bottle Age: cedar, cigar box, musk, mushroom, earth, leather

by Jim LaMar

1. Jancis Robinson (ed), Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, (Oxford University Press: London) 2006

2. Steven Spurrier & Michel Dovaz, Academie du Vin, Complete Wine Course (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York) 1983

3. Charles Sullivan, A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1998

4. Jancis Robinson (ed), Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes, (Oxford University Press: New York) 1996

5. Benjamin Lewin, Wine Myths and Reality, (Vendage Press: Dover, DE) 2010

6. L. Peter Christensen, Nick K. Dokoozlian, M. Andrew Walker, James A Wolpert, et all. Wine Grape Varieties in California (University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources Publications: Oakland) 2003


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Page created October 10, 2001; last updated July 26, 2011
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