Among a tiny but not insignificant section of the local winemaking, wine-loving and wine-influential community, there’s a recent growth of interest in cinsaut. Witness, first of all the tasting of local and international examples held by the winemaking Mullineux pair of Riebeek-Kasteel (see here) who make a pretty nice example themselves, but only for their close followers.
Some of that group (or those groups) like to spell it cinsault, incidentally. According to the great Robinson et al book on Wine Grapes that’s a spelling most associated with France’s Languedoc region (and some French-North African areas); but that group or groups is or are always interested in stressing a specific French connection
But, wonderfully, they’re also interested in stressing the South African connection – it is that link with local history that is crucial, of course, and a mark of the growing maturity and self-confidence of the advance guard of local winemaking.
A Cape Town tasting of all (I think) the local varietal bottlings of cinsaut was organised by the South African Sommeliers Association (a group of which I have such high hopes that I stumped up R300 to join them – a week later I’m still waiting for some welcoming bumpf, or at least some confirmation, but I live in hope…).
The Sommeliers Association has a splendid lot of foreigners involved (I count two Germans, one Swede and a Mauritian amongst their seven executive members) which might help account for the absence of an apostrophe in their name – but the Cape Winemakers Guild is also illiterate in this fashionable way, so I’m probably wrong.
It was an Australian recruit, David Clarke, who presented this welcome tasting, and did so with a great deal of aplomb and savoir faire. I was particularly appreciative of his requiring something like silence from the tasters (despite needing a subtle rap over the knuckles myself at one point) – and I hope he will attempt to bring such discipline into a tasting group to which both he and I belong…
I’m hoping that enough others will say more about the tasting, letting me off the hook. So far, believe it or not, this has all been a rambling introduction to some stories I want to tell about the history of cinsaut in South Africa. Rosa Kruger, the viticulturist that David was savvy enough to invite to make some points at his tasting, did bring in some historical elements as well as interesting viticultural ones, but there is more stuff that I’m aware of – and that, incidentally, I brought up in my book on SA wine, where I wrote what I could about the history of significant varieties in the Cape (a subject that seems to arouse little interest, unfortunately).
But my introduction has taken too long already (I’m a little bemused by a glass or two of Lammershoek 2007 Syrah – really good stuff: Lammershoek have no need to be embarrassed by the wines made before they joined the natural wine revolution; and just a soupcon or two of Avontuur’s beautifully packaged and rather delicious 10-year old potstill brandy) so my historical snippets must wait till tomorrow.
Let me just note how impressive the cinsauts were at the Sommelier Association tasting. Not impressive in being “great wines” – we had a bit of a discussion about whether cinsaut could ever make a great wine (very complex, concentrated, long-lived, etc), and my opinion is that no, that’s not what cinsaut is about (though the KWV from 1974 certainly was long-lived, and still with interest and pleasure to offer).
But they were impressive in being lovely wines to drink and interesting enough to discuss. They’re a kind of emblem, in a way, of reclaiming ground for “ordinary” wine – modestly oaked, not too intense, fresh and lively, not too expensive – destined precisely for drinking. At different price levels and undoubtedly at different levels of ambition, many producers made an impact – Landskroon, Blank Bottle, Mullineux, Sadie, Badenhorst, Stellenrust, and more. I will have to write more about these, as well as about the history stuff.
(With a few corrections made the next, more sober, morning – thanks to David Clarke with an e.)