The Lowdown on Sinful Cinsaut
By Mary Orlin, firstname.lastname@example.org
When I see a bottle of cinsault made by a California producer, I get excited. Why? Because there's not much of this red grape variety planted in the state. If you drink any French Côtes du Rhône red blend or rosé from Provence, there's a very good chance that cinsaut is one of the grapes.
Cinsaut (pronounced SAN-so) -- also spelled cinsault -- is common in France's southern vineyards. Cinsaut is widely grown in South Africa too, where it was crossed with pinot noir to make pinotage. Yet the world's oldest cinsaut vineyard is in Lodi. There, 130-year-old vines thrive in a 25-acre vineyard. These ancient vines were planted in 1886 by Joseph Spenker. Today, it's owned by Spenker descendant Wanda Woock Bechthold and farmed by the Phillips family, who make a single-varietal cinsaut at their Michael David Winery.[Gnarly, scraggly, 130-year old cinsaut vines in the Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi.]
Gnarly, scraggly, 130-year old cinsaut vines in the Bechthold Vineyard in Lodi. (Courtesy of Michael David Winery)Turley Wine Cellars' Tegan Passalacqua has been making cinsaut from those Lodi grapes since 2008. He calls cinsaut a polished and lush wine, with good acid and body; he ferments whole clusters to bring out complexity. "It's a fun wine to drink," he says. "My wife and I probably drink more cinsaut than any other wine."Winemakers love to add cinsaut to blends. Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm believes cinsaut is a wonderful, if underappreciated grape. "It offers a super elegant 'top note' to wine," he says. It's "literally the cherry on top," thanks to cherry esters in the grape.
In Santa Barbara County, Margerum Wine Company's Doug Margerum just planted 1.5 acres of cinsaut for his M5 blend. "Cinsaut adds earthiness, exoticness and a bit of that savage, old world quality," he says. "It adds earthiness to my rosé blend."
California vineyards: Dry Creek Valley, Lodi, Santa Barbara County and Sierra Foothills.Fun fact: Cinsaut is one of 13 grape varieties permitted in Southern Rhone Châteauneuf-du-Pape red blends.
Flavor profile: The earthy, herbal and cherry aromas give way to anise, sour black cherry and a dried mint, silky finish. Low tannins make this a drinkable wine. If you like cabernet franc, try cinsaut.
Taste it: Alapay Wines, Black Sheep Winery, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Clos Saron, Estate Crush, McCay Cellars, Michael David Winery, Onesta Wines (red and rosé), Preston of Dry Creek, The Scholium Project (rosé), Turley Wine Cellars.
Price range: $18-$45
-- Mary Orlin, Staff