The Posh Spice of Forgotten Grapes

Cinsault, the Posh Spice of Forgotten Grapes

This week’s Forgotten Grape goes by many different names: Cinsaut (minus the L), Oeillade (yeah, we have no idea what that means either), Hermitage (thank you, confused South Africans), Black Malvoisie, and Ottavianello – much in the same way that Mrs. Beckham has had a lot of different names herself: Victoria Adams, Victoria Beckham, Chief WAG, Posh. But she’ll always be Posh Spice to us (we’ve held a small place in our hearts for the Spice Girls ever since they burst on the scene in 1996), and we’ll always call this week’s Forgotten Grape Cinsault. With the L, thank you very much!

You can argue about the name, you can argue about the spelling, you can even argue about the pronunciation (the Americanized sin-SO vs. the Francophonic san-SO), but one thing you can’t argue about is that this particular grape is posh, feminine, hearty and produces some awfully good single varietal wine, even if she very rarely given the chance to strut her stuff solo.

You see, Cinsault – like Posh over there – just doesn’t get credit for the talent she possesses. To many wine aficionados, Cinsault’s only contribution to society is either as part of a group or when it’s hitched to a more rugged and more masculine grape to impart grace, charm, softness, and bouquet into the blend. But then again, the groups and other grapes Cinsault has been connected to are some of the superstars of the wine world! Cinsault is one of the 13 grapes legally allowed to be included in Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines (though to be honest, only a handful of Chateauneuf-du-Pape producers actually use Cinsault in their blends) and she’s one of the six red grapes used in the Cotes du Rhone region, where she is used more often. Beyond that, you often seen Cinsaults paired up with either Grenache or Carignan, two decidedly rough-hewn, manly grapes that need a strong feminine influence to make it more presentable. That’s Cinsault’s purpose, and she does a damn fine job bringing glamour and sophistication into the wines she’s a part of.

Because Cinsault grapes are highly susceptible to rot and mildew in damp conditions, the grape is particularly fond of hot growing areas, much like the perennially-tanned Mrs. Beckham. You will most often find her lurking about in those aforementioned southern Rhone appellations as well as those further south in France: Provence and the Languedoc-Rousillon. Because of her durability against heat and drought and her propensity to be incredibly fruitful and multiply, produce larger than normal amounts of fruit per acre, Cinsault has become increasingly popular across the Mediterranean in nontraditional wine countries with more desert-like conditions, such as Lebanon and Algeria. She’s also found smaller international fan bases in Italy, Australia and South Africa. But just like Posh (and Becks and Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue and soccer, for that matter) despite her world-wide appeal, Cinsault just can’t seem to get a grip in the American market.

The reason for this may be because Cinsault does her best work when she’s dressed up in pink. And while Europeans have no problem with the color, lots of Americans – especially American males – just haven’t quite taken the same fancy to the color as their compatriots across the pond have, particular when it comes to their wines. Cinsault adds structure, perfume, and a softness to fashionable Provencal and southern Rhone rosés, and can often be found leading the show in those wines, sitting in the front row and commanding the bulk of the spotlight all to herself.

However, most of those rosés are still blends of several different grapes, which means that Cinsault rarely, if ever, gets to show what she can do in a 100% varietal wine. Which is a shame, because she truly does make a remarkable wine on its own - soft, supple, richly perfumed, and highly feminine yet still exceptionally drinkable. It sometimes makes you wonder what the wine world has against Cinsault, why it continues to sell the grape short again and again. No bother to us who’ve already fallen head over heels for the remarkable grape, though. We’ll just pass along samples to our friends, spread the word, and continue to build our grass-roots campaign for more solo joints from this posh, feminine, sophisticated Forgotten Grape. Trust us: if you really want to spice up your life, seek out some of this week’s Forgotten Grape Cinsault on her own. You’ll be scary, sporty, baby, and ginger that you did.    


How Do You Pronounce Cinsault?

If you’re an American, sin-SO; If you’re French san-SO


Cinsault Looks Like:

Because Cinsault appears so often in rose wines, most people think of it as a pink grape, and that’s actually a pretty apt description for the color of Cinsault. Even in a 100% varietal wine, Cinsault has a lighter, brighter color than most of the heavier red wines from the Rhone valley coming in at a deep hot pink to an almost magenta color, similar to the stylish frock Posh is sporting in the picture to the near right. The one exception to this color is with the Cinsault wines produced in Algeria and Lebanon. Because of the higher temperatures and because those wines are often aged in oak, Cinsaults can take on a brick red to almost burnt orange color, similar to the outfit worn by the decidedly toast-colored Mrs. Beckham in the picture to the far right.


Cinsault Smells Like:

The beauty of Cinsault is that it smells as sweet as it looks and feels, which is why it’s such a popular component of rose wines. It brings a lot of its strawberry and ripe red cherry scents to any blend it’s included in. Sniffing a Cinsault is a lot like standing in the middle of a strawberry or raspberry patch: soft, fresh, sweet. It’s the scent of Grandma’s homemade strawberry preserves or, if you’re a bit less rural and more urban, a Strawberry and Fruit Punch Starburst mashed together. In the warmer-region Cinsaults, you might also get a bit of a gamy smell to the wine, particularly if it’s been aged for some time. But even on those wines, the soft, fruity strawberry/cherry aromas will still be there. You may just have to look a little harder to find them.


Cinsault Tastes Like:   

The very first thing you’re going to notice on a Cinsault is just how soft the wine is. It has a particularly velvety mouth feel and very little tannic pull to dry out your mouth. It is a feminine wine in just about every way, shape, and form. Flavor-wise, you’ll get the same strawberries from the nose, but also some slightly darker red fruits: raspberries, currents, and Bing cherries moving from red into black. In older Cinsault and those from more drought-ridden Mediterranean climates, the flavors may be completely different – drier, hardly any fruit, a much meatier, saltier flavor to the wine with a darker cocoa or coffee-esque aftertaste. But those are generally rarer exceptions. From the more Old-World style Cinsault, it will be bright, light red berries and super softness along the tongue and mouth.


Key Regions:

●        The Rhone Valley and Provence regions of France

●        Lebanon

●        Morocco

●        Algeria


Cindy’s “Did Juneau?”:

Outside of France, where Cinsault is the fourth most-widely grown grape, the next biggest producer of Cinsault is, surprisingly, Lebanon. Winemaking in Lebanon is more or less limited to only one region of the country, the Bekaa valley 30 miles east of Beirut, which for millennia (yes, we wrote “millennia”) has been Lebanon’s more fertile and most important agricultural region. With an altitude of around 1000 meters above sea level, lots of stony, hilly countryside, and a Mediterranean climate of rainy, cool winters and hot, dry summers, the Bekaa valley actually mirrors the terroir of several southern Italian and French wine regions and makes for excellent vitiulture. The history of winemaking in Lebanon actually dates back over 6000 years, but today the Bekaa valley (or Beqaa valley, with the more regional Arabic spelling) produces almost as many different grapes in one 75-by-10 mile strip as are produced in all of France (or in Southern California’s Temecula Valley – remember folks, sometimes quantity is not preferable over quality). In addition to Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Mourvedre, Tempranillo, Grenache, Carignan, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Clairette, Ugni Blanc, and local white grapes Obaideh and Merwah (related to Chardonnay and Semillon, respectively).


Perfect Pairing:

Strawberries, strawberries, strawberries. That’s the first thing I think of when I either smell or taste a Cinsault. It’s always strawberries. So even though you’re not supposed to pair a wine with the main flavor you smell or taste on it, I am going to recommend pairing strawberries with a Cinsault, but you’ve got to add something to them to counter-act all those soft, fruity strawberry flavors and balance out the wine with a stronger, saltier taste. So what I would do is serve your strawberries with a rich, creamy blue cheese. Something like Maytag or Danish – a cleaner blue cheese – not something that’s going to be really green like Gorgonzola, Roquefort, or Stilton. I think the pungent saltiness of the cheese will really cut well through the acid of the strawberry fruit and the jamminess of the wine. This would make an epic either appetizer or dessert.

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