Old Vine Cinsault: Heritage in a Glass - Don Winkler, International Wine Review

Don Winkler with Kevin Phillips, South Africa

I recently had a wonderful opportunity to taste old vine Cinsault produced on three different continents. Cinsault yields prolific grapes that can produce light wines of little distinction and, for this reason, often doesn’t get a lot of respect. But old vine Cinsault put in the hands of outstanding winemakers is another thing altogether. Some compare it to Burgundy, others say it’s Beaujolais-like, but it’s undoubtedly delicious! And, it’s a perfect accompaniment to assertive, exuberant, full-bodied harpsichord works -- Padre Antonio Soler’s Sonatas or Francois Couperin’s Huitiéme Ordre perhaps? Or, maybe something more contemporary  like Janine Johnson’s lovely harpsichord Suite in f-sharp minor, Opus 24 might work very well.

We can start with Chile’s old vine wines, produced mainly in the southern Itata River area not far from the Pacific coast. Marcelo Retamal, winemaker at De Martino Winery in Maule, Itata is one of Chile’s old vine specialists, and the recipient of several national and international awards.  Itata is also one of the first places where the Spanish first introduced vitis vinifera grapes  to the New World . Marcelo not only uses old vine grapes in producing his Cinsault, but also relies heavily on traditional production methods.  The Guarilihue Vineyard that provides the Cinsault grapes for Marcelo’s wine is self-rooted, organically farmed, and only cultivated by horse. Marcelo uses tinajas to produce his Cinsault, a clay vessel that dates back to the 17th century in Itata and earlier than that in Spain.  He’s scoured the surrounding countryside for old ones to put back into service.  I visited Marcelo at the De Martino Winery while preparing the IWR’s most recent report on Chile, and my full review of his De Martino 2015 Cinsault Guarilihue Vineyardis available at http://tinyurl.com/y8kprntj.  In short, though, it can be described as an exuberant, fresh wine with vivid acidity and rich flavors.   

Certain Cinsault vineyards in California are also impressively old. The Lodi region is home to one of America’s oldest vineyards, the Bechthold Vineyard planted in 1886.  Kevin Phillips, who farms the Bechthold Vineyard, gave us a fascinating tour of the vineyard last autumn.  This was followed by a tasting of wines produced by other winemakers from his grapes – using Kevin’s pickup’s tailgate as a handy tasting table.  Among the producers making old vine Cinsault from this self-rooted, dry-farmed, bush vine vineyard are Michael David, Turley, and Bonny Doon

You can see my interview with Kevin at the vineyard on the IWR YouTube channel http://tinyurl.com/yaacnqu8 and reviews of the wines can be found in my blog article at http://tinyurl.com/ya9sue6m, as well as in our recent IWR report on The Vines and Wines of Lodi. It must be said that these are incredible wines for the price. The Michael David 2015 Ancient Vine Cinsault, for example, costs just $25. You probably can’t find it at your local wine store, but it can be ordered direct from the winery. 

Wine production in South Africa dates back to the 17thcentury with the arrival of Dutch settlers.  And, today, there’s great interest in maintaining numerous very old, dry farmed bush vineyards.  [An aside: Rosa Kruger is the person who has led the way in discovering and protecting these vinous treasures -  you can watch my interview with her on the International Wine Review’s YouTube channel.] South Africa not only has old vines but also world-class winemakers, one of whom is Eben Sadie. Eben makes a series of wines from old vineyards including an old vine Cinsault using grapes from 50 year old vines.  These vines grow on the northwest slope of Kasteelberg Mountain in the hot, dry Swartland area and Eben’s called his old vine Cinsault wine after a local snake, the Pofadder, whose form is mirrored in the mountain’s shape. The Sadie Family 2016 Pofadder is the best Cinsault I’ve ever tasted. It’s not easy to find, but if you contact the importer, Broadbent Selections in Richmond VA, they can help.  I’ve tasted Eben’s wines at his winery and have reviewed his wines several times over the years. The most recent review is at http://tinyurl.com/y8o38h8j