If you think about wines from South Africa, chances are good that a grape called Cinsaut (or, if you prefer, CinsauLt) isn’t the first thing that crosses your mind. No worries, I won’t judge you for that; it wouldn’t be the first thing I thought of, either. There are plenty of better-known grapes emerging from this oldest of the “New World” wine countries – and, on a side note, isn’t the whole Old World/New World designation dated and a bit ridiculous in any case? Yes.
Instead of modest Cinsaut, who could blame you for thinking about South Africa’s parade varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah … and Pinotage, the only grape that can truly be called “native” to this land?
Ah. Pinotage. Now I’ve got you, dear reader.
You see, Pinotage is the progeny of a 1925 crossing of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (known, for some reason, as Hermitage in those days in South Africa) made by the University of Stellenbosch’s first professor of viticulture, Abraham Izak Perold, in the vineyards that were part of his official residence. Pinotage may or may not tickle your fancy, but there is no denying its influence in South Africa. Heck, there are even vines in Germany – and some of the wines are very good!
But this wine is a Cinsaut – and I bought it on a whim. Well, not entirely – it was also in a clearance sale, and I had never had a Cinsaut from South Africa. To be totally honest, monovarietal Cinsaut is pretty tough to find in any case; even as a rosé – for which it enjoys a reasonable level of renown – it is most often blended with one or two other grapes (Grenache and Syrah come to mind).
Cinsaut originated hundreds of years ago in the south of France, where it is currently permitted as part of the blend of a variety of the typical red and rosé wines that you might find, including that most famous of reds: Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is quite heat and drought-resistant, which makes it increasingly attractive in these times of rising temperatures and increasing water difficulties. And it produces wines of lovely red fruit and enchanting perfume, with relatively low alcohol – a combination of traits that are not particularly common in hot, dry wine regions.
In South Africa, Cinsaut was the most-planted red variety all the way up until 1993. Now, it occupies tenth place, and its reputation continues to suffer from the perceptions associated with its former commonness.
Stellenbosch and Waterkloof
Found east of Cape Town, Stellenbosch has long been the heart of South African wine country and winemaking. It was here, on the south-facing slopes of the Schapenberg (Sheep’s Mountain), a scant four kilometres from the Cape coast and 300 metres above sea level, that Waterkloof was founded.
With vineyards going back to the 60s and 70s, the estate’s first vintage under the Waterkloof name is, nevertheless, 2005 – one year after Paul Boutinot took it over. Conversion to biodynamics was begun in 2008, and the long-term plan of devoting half of the farm’s 100 hectares to the preservation of the natural flora and fauna of the region has been recognised by the World Wildlife Fund’s Biodiversity & Wine Initiative in May of the same year.
The Estate has a large portfolio, with at least 17 wines made from its 53 hectares of vineyards. All are made with “low intervention”, a poorly-defined term that, in this case, means with no additives beyond a little sulphur after the malolactic fermentation and with minimal manipulation.
The Wine: Seriously Cool Cinsault 2015 12.5% abv
This wine is 100% Cinsaut, from vines planted in 1964 and 1974. Fermentation was “wild”, which is to say that it took place using only the yeasts found on the skins of the grapes (and hanging around in the cellar), instead of killing those with sulphur and then using a pre-selected strain (or strains). Grapes were foot-stomped instead of machine-crushed.
The name is “Seriously Cool”, and this refers not only to the cooler vineyard sites, but should also be taken to heart as far as the drinking temperature is concerned. A light wine like this needs to be cool – I drank it at around 14°C, and it was perfect.
Already the colour was promising, with its cool, limpid ruby – but the nose was simply gorgeous. Lavender, ginger, cranberry, chamomile – and sea buckthorn! Sea buckthorn is popular for teas in Germany and Switzerland, and if you never smelled it before, you won’t forget it once you do.
Beautifully light and dry, with crisp, racy acidity. The wine isn’t a fruit bomb; the fruit is delicate, fresh and oh-so-tasty! It has excellent, cooling and fine tannins that caress rather than dry the palate. Delicious red currants and sour cherry; the lavender and chamomile are invigorating and lead playfully to a light, salty finish. There is a bit of chalkiness that I always associate with wines that are fermented in cement tanks or in amphorae – even though this is not the case with this wine.
Palate-cleansing, fresh, and utterly delicious, I wanted to drink the whole bottle in one sitting – and had the feeling that I wouldn’t have suffered at all. What a pretty, joyful wine! And what a pity that I didn’t buy a case of it.
The One-Line Takeaway
If you ever needed to see how much pleasure a light, floral wine can give, this is the one to try!