Cinsaut or Cinsault is an ancient red wine grape variety that is believed to have originated in the Hérault region of southern France, but could have been brought by traders from the eastern Mediterranean. The vine can produce heavy crops, but crafted wines are much better if yields are controlled. Cinsault is very drought resistant but can be susceptible to disease, so appreciates a dry climate - this heat tolerance and productivity make it important in Bandol and Languedoc-Roussillon southern French.
It is also one of the most often planted varieties in Algeria and Morocco, and is a major red variety in Corsica, Lebanon, South Africa, and Tunisia. It can also be found scattered around Italy and Eastern Europe, also Australia has some Cinsault planted, although it has yet to achieve popularity there.
In South Africa the grape was originally known as ‘Hermitage’ - (slightly confusing, since the famed French Hermitage is completely Syrah). When a South African professor crossed Cinsault with Pinot Noir, he therefore named it Pinotage - now the country's signature red wine. France has more Cinsault planted (50,000 hectares) than Cabernet Sauvignon and there is as much Cinsault vines planted in its former colony and wine region of Algeria.
Cinsault is one of those varieties enjoyed by ‘grape-growers’ as it easily produces a very large crop of 6 to 10 tons per acre. Cinsaut can be over-cropped and used as a filler-grape - which can make it difficult for many wine critics to give it any respect. With cluster stems that easily detach from the vine, Cinsault adapts well to machine harvesting. It produces large cylindrical, tight bunches of black grapes with fairly thick skins. It is often blended with grapes such as Grenache and Carignan to add softness and bouquet.
When properly managed to a crop load of just 2 to 4 tons per acre, it can produce quite flavourful wines with penetrating aroma and soft tannins, and easily drinkable in its youth. Wine made from Cinsault grapes can be very aromatic with a supple texture that soothes the palate. Fairly low in tannin, it is often made into Rosé by itself or blended, to brighten the fruit and tone down the harsher edges of Carignan, in particular. Although officially sanctioned in Châteauneuf du Pape, it is used by only a few producers in their blends.