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Tim James: On “Mediterranean” Blends with Cinsaut

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It’s been mentioned on Winemag more than once that the number of Cape cinsauts has grown year on year – most of them on the light side, perfumed and charming, rather trivial, and (dare I say?) often rather similar. There have been fewer wines in which cinsaut has had a significant role as a blending partner. Christian Eedes, particularly, has been looking forward to the revival of cinsaut-cabernet blends which has indeed taken a few, very few, tentative steps forwards – and I too look forward to more of those, especially as Stellenbosch brings its cabernets into the post-Parker world.

But blending cinsaut with other Mediterranean varieties is a more obvious course – though without the bit of prestigious tradition in South Africa that the cab-cinsaut blend has. It has been followed for a few years, generally in a small way to add lightness, aroma and freshness, in some of the Swartland syrah-based blends, not least Sadie Columella, Badenhorst Red and David Elpidios. Badenhorst winemaker Jasper Wickens seems to have been the first to radically up-end the blend in his own label. His Muskeljaatkat 2011 (cinsaut-grenache) was replaced in 2012 by Swerwer Red (cinsaut-grenache-carignan). The next three Swerwer vintages were of cinsaut and grenache, with a splash of syrah. Change came again in 2017, when the syrah was replaced by tinta barocca; Jasper says he’d actually wanted to do that from the start, but had trouble finding suitable tinta. Now he’s not planning on further significant varietal change.

Duncan Savage’s cinsaut-led Follow The Line appeared first as a 2013 blend for the Cape Winemakers Guild auction, with grenache and syrah in the minor places, all the grapes from that little enclave in the Swartland called Darling. From 2014 it became a part of his regular range. (The Savage Red, maiden vintage 2011, had been more standard in having syrah dominate.) Interestingly, the latest vintage, which I haven’t tasted, has made a radical retreat from the trend I’m looking at and is now almost entirely from cinsaut – with just 7% syrah. On the other hand, there’s a new Savage 2017 grenache-cinsaut blend, with a little syrah, from Piekenierskloof, called Thief in the Night.

I’ve been very pleased to see the excellent pioneers being joined by a sudden small rush of “Mediterranean blends” (for want of a better phrase – might “Swartland blend” be better, acknowledging the major source of them, certainly inspirationally?) with cinsaut playing an important role. The 2017 vintage produced at least four new such wines that I know of (and I’d be grateful for anyone who can supplement my short list) as well as another coming into wider public notice. A couple have received some attention here on Winemag, but I don’t think the pattern has been pointed out – the pattern, that is, of an expanding  genre.

The first of them I noticed was Van Loggerenberg Graft, which is a 55:45% blend of Stellenbosch cinsaut and syrah (see my note here). I’d much liked Lukas’s straight cinsaut, Geronimo, but I think the new wine reveals just how much cinsaut benefits from blending in a better quality grape (forgive me – but I do think cinsaut is untimately limited compared to syrah, and to grenache in the right vineyard and right hands).

Lourens Family Howard John 2017The following are the other 2017s I’m thinking of. Firstly, Lourens Family Wines Howard John (cinsaut, grenache, syrah and carignan, in that order), which I think is the second vintage of the wine (see Christian’s note here). Then Thorne and Daughters Wanderer’s Heart (grenache and cinsaut with a dash of mourvèdre), which I warmly welcomed here. And, from a lesser-known, newer producer, comes Kolonel Mostert en die Twee Souties (yes, well) from Paul Hoogwerf and Doug Mylrea’s Maanschijn label. So far I’ve only tasted it pre-bottling, but look forward to improving on that – it seemed very promising. Interestingly and significantly, all these wines have eschewed the ultra-lightness that many straight cinsauts aim at and have some real vinosity and depth as well as freshness.

I’ve also heard tell that the garagiste-moonlighting producer that I greatly admire, Pierre Rabie of Giant Periwinkle, has tweaked his Baardbek in 2017, bringing the cinsaut component up to 50%, with syrah at 39% – and 11% malbec of all things (even less expected than mourvèdre and tinta barocca)! Sounds good, and I look forward to trying it. And, in the future I hope, a whole lot more such blends.

  • Tim James is one of South Africa’s leading wine commentators, contributing to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Nice article.

    There is also the Smiley Red NV. The current V3 being 40% Cinsault 40% Mourvedre with the rest split between Tinta Barocca and Syrah.

    Cinsaut is fantastic in a blend, especially off drier sites.

  2. Exciting developments, Tim. I do think though, that Cinsaut is a strange beast that is difficult to understand. I recently tasted a 1966 KWV Cinsaut with friends and we all agreed that it was really magnificent. It was tasted with other great old wines, including gorgeous Lanzerac Cabs from the sixties and even a GS ’66, so there was proper context and we had the time to both taste and drink.

    It was vividly fruity, not tired or overly tertiary at all and it didn’t fade in the bottle either. That was surely a cheap wine, produced from a massive amount of growers that simply tried to get as much grapes as possible from each hectare – probably not from any ancient vineyards. And I don’t think the winemaker dragged his mattress into the fermentation cellar either. How did it not only manage to stay alive for more than half a century, but on top of that turn into the sexy beast that it has? It’s hardly fathomable. And Cinsaut has surprised in the same way before…

    The new wave Cinsauts/Cinsaults are often made to be consumed young, but who knows how they will mature over 50 years (?!) – are they not more “considerately” produced than the ’66 KWV, often from older vineyards that managed to stay in the ground? And what about the “more serious” Cinsauts that are made with the actual intention that they should be able to mature with benefit? How long will they keep on improving? It seems like some Cinsauts can stay in a lull for a very long time and then suddenly jump out of a closet when you least expect it, draped in full supermodel lingerie. I’m confused and very much intrigued…

  3. Linda – I think you are being a little over dramatic, Sadie is mentioned with relevance to Swartland Syrah based blends in this case, together with 2 other stand out producers, he then quickly moves on. Are you grumpy today or have you miss out on the Sadie allocation this year?

  4. “It seems like some Cinsauts can stay in a lull for a very long time and then suddenly jump out of a closet when you least expect it, draped in full supermodel lingerie”

    Kwisp, have you ever thought of becoming a wine writer? I love your turns of phrase!

    • Ah, Chris, every fibre of my being wants to work in the wine industry. Looks like I’ve just sold my house up here, so I’m ripe for the picking! 😁

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