Flotsam & Jetsam Cinsault 2016
The oldest vines of any black grape variety planted in South Africa are of Cinsault. The grape was once called Hermitage, named after the famous hill in the northern Rhône with which Cinsault has no connection whatsoever. In 1925, one A. I. Perold crossed Cinsault with Pinot Noir to create a grape he called Pinotage.
So the variety has quite a heritage in South Africa. Elsewhere, it's rarely made on its own as its low tannins can make it too soft. Instead, it either forms a part of southern Rhône blends, contributing red fruit and high acidity, or is used for rosé - blended with Grenache, for instance, in the historic Tavel appellation.
But South Africa, with its old Cinsault vines dating back to the early twentieth century, has an advantage over other countries. Moreover, South African producers right now are at their best and most innovative experimenting with Rhône varieties which excel in the country's Mediterranean climate.
Chris and Suzaan Alheit have developed a high reputation as part of the charge towards quality wine production in South Africa, particularly with their Cartology label. Flotsam & Jetsam is a stylish side project designed "to explore and preserve the Cape's vinous heritage, to celebrate the underdogs and the oddities, and hopefully to show that 'workhorse grapes' can make lekker wine" - lekker apparently meaning tasty.
Tasty this Cinsault certainly is. Its deliberately no-frills website belies what a good wine this is. Picked early, with ABV of just 12%, it's light bodied and easy drinking, but there are grainy tannins to give the wine some grip, together with carbonic aromas of red fruits (redcurrant, raspberry, strawberry), roses, coffee, and cloves. My tasting notes conclude that it "almost has a Pinot nose - finally understand now why Perold crossed Pinot and Cinsault together."
Grape Variety: Cinsault
Region: Western Cape, South Africa
Food pairing: pizza; pasta; Mediterranean food