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Talking Cinsaut

September 23, 2016
by Christian
in Opinion & Analysis
with 2 Comments
The Stellenbosch Farmers Wineries Stellenbosch Cinsaut 1974

A reference point.

How prominently is Cinsaut set to feature in the South African wine industry’s future? Yesterday, a panel discussion and tasting of some leading examples jointly hosted by Wine Cellar and WOSA (watch here). Based on my experience of the modern incarnations, it seems that it generally makes “smashable” wines – it is very much on trend in the sense that it provides a fine accompaniment to tapas served in a hipster wine bar but is it capable of being South Africa’s trump card when it comes to red wine? Can it lead to profound rather than just immensely appealing wine?

In a similar vein, are we expecting too much of it as a single-variety wine and is not better suited as a blending component? There is a myth taking root that it was the secret ingredient in many of the great wines of the 1960s and 1970s but while it certainly played a role, there is evidence that so did many other varieties – see here and here.

In reaction to the above, Eben Sadie who makes a Cinsaut called Pofadder as part of his Old Vine Series had the following to say: “It’s very difficult not to take a punt on a grape that carries terroir so heavily. My intuition is that we must trust a grape that is so articulate of the soil. The only other grape I know which is like that is Pinot Noir.”

Sadie conceded that success wasn’t guaranteed but producers were compelled to “entertain the thought” and it would only be after 20 vintages of wines made off old vineyards that we would be able to tell for sure. What gave him encouragement was the “phenomenal stability of tannins” that the wines he has made to date exhibit, suggesting that Cinsaut was exceptionally age-worthy.  He added that South Africa needed to be less dependent on the “big five” varieties: “We have the most the most diverse flora in the world, so why not a diverse grape portfolio?”

Ryan Mostert of Silwervis and fellow Cinsaut advocate said that he felt that in his experience, Cinsaut looked “completely at home” in the South African context. “While Syrah will be sweating in the heat, a Cinsaut block with a bit of age looks comfortable – you can pick the grapes on a 35⁰C day and they will still have crunch. Also, it makes wines that taste unique from site to site. I think it’s here to stay.”

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2 Comments

  1. Kevin RSeptember 25, 2016 at 3:22 pmReply

    Would be interested to hear from the wine makers on the panel what varieties they believe blend best with Cinsaut and also which wards they believe Cinsaut has the brightest future in?

  2. KwispedoorSeptember 23, 2016 at 10:43 amReply

    I think we have several (more and less exploited) red wine trump cards.

    Sure we make lots of good Shiraz, Cabernet, and others, but so do most grape-producing countries on this planet. It’s difficult to differentiate if your building blocks are the same.

    Pinotage is often royally screwed up, but both the fresher new styles (Frankenstein, Fram, B. Vintners, David & Nadia, Spioenkop 1900, etc.) and the better traditional styles (Beeslaar, Kanonkop, etc.) are still very good and we’re clearly the world leader as far as Pinotage is concerned. Some might cringe at the thought, but so be it, there will always be differences in taste (and deeply rooted prejudice)…

    Fringe and more newly introduced cultivars (to our shores, at least) also show much promise. Who knows what our viticultural landscape will look like in twenty years’ time?

    But right now the sheer amount and variety of old Cinsaut vineyards in the Cape presents a huge opportunity. It seems likely that Cinsaut and Cabernet played the biggest part (from a varietal point of view) in the longevity of the 60’s and 70’s reds.

    Perhaps we’ve just been too conditioned to think dark, tannic, astringent/austere, concentrated big reds are the age-worthy ones. What generally ages better: a delicate Riesling from a good site or a big, fat, woody Chardonnay that went through full malolactic fermentation?

    Perhaps our conditioned minds do not always allow us to think that a good Cinsaut can age as well over a long period as a Cabernet might. It just looks a touch too light and easy in its youth, right? But good balance, natural acidity, a pure fruit core and the mysterious effect of old vines might just surprise us. I remember a cheap, presumably mass-produced KWV Cinsaut 1991 that was easy-drinking, but light and really unimpressive in its youth. The same wine was snuck into a blind Pinot Noir tasting (as a joke) more than a decade later and ended up as one of the top wines… Surely our best Cinsauts now are much, much better wines, right?

    I think we should embrace this opportunity that’s standing right in front of us. And in the process we will rescue as much as possible of our old Cinsaut vineyards, which is a good thing, right? Plus, like with Pinotage, we’ve got something pretty unique here. What other countries make meaningful quantities of varietal Cinsaut and Cinsaut-Cabernet blends?

    Let’s saddle up these horses (Pinotage, Cinsaut & “new” cultivars, suited to our climate) and ride the hell out of them!

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