Cinsault in South Africa

South Africa’s oldest red wine vineyard is a block of Cinsault in Wellington, which now produces a part of the ground-breaking Leeu Passant Red blend.

Cinsaut grapes growing on the vine.

A robust and virile grape, Cinsault has a long history in South Africa and, like Chenin Blanc, there are very few bottlings in the world. Cinsault is mostly used as a blending component in Southern France, but notable pre-phylloxera plantings are found in Chile. So again this is an important and uniquely South African expression. 

Cinsault or Cinsaut?

Both. It is the same grape variety. In South Africa, in the vernacular, this large-berried grape was known as Cinsaut, but increasingly labelled as Cinsault.

Disease resistant, easy to farm and high yielding, it was mostly planted as bush vines and only occasionally trellised. 

Cinsault Styles

CinsauIt in South Africa has seen an unprecedented rise in popularity in recent times. The Platter’s Wine Guide had about three to five wines listed in 2008, in the 2012 edition only three were mentioned, but in the 2019 edition, there were a staggering 55 listed. This is quite a dramatic increase in bottlings. 

Historically, Cinsault was used in many easy-drinking table wines, notably Tassenberg. Only with the advent of the Swartland Revolution and the subsequent ‘Old Vine Project’ did we see more attention being lavished on this grape. Member estates of the Old Vine Project are allowed to use ‘Certified Heritage Vineyards’ seal on wine made from the grapes of vineyards older than 35 years.

As a blending grape Cinsault was part of many of our fine old blends, like the Rustenberg Dry Red and long ageing older bottlings of Chateau Libertas. The Chateau Libertas 1957 is still one of the best South African reds I have tasted in recent times. 

There are many tutti-fruity, easy-drinking versions of Cinsault, but the quality of our finest labels are excellent and ever improving. These wines have complex wild strawberry, pomegranate and spice notes leading to fresh medium-bodied savoury palates. The top examples are well worth seeking out.

Prominent Growers of Cinsault in South Africa

Like Chenin, Cinsault is quite widely planted and there are significant special old vineyards in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Darling and the Swartland that are now used to produce wines of real quality with fine wine aspirations.

By James Pietersen