Edinburgh is often described as the Athens of the North. Something to do with philosophy, I think, rather than a love of columns and naked athletics. Beirut is the Paris of the East but the most popular city to be compared to is Venice with Amstersdam, St Petersberg, Bruges, Manchester and, of course, Birmingham all claiming to be Venices of the North. Well pinot noir is the Venice of the wine world; it is the most popular comparison with many grapes claiming to be the pinot noir of: insert point on the compass. Candidates for this honour include Rioja’s tempranillo, if you’ve ever tried a Vina Ardanza then you will know the comparison can be justified, st laurent from Austria, grenache and even burly syrah, not so odd if you’ve ever had a mature Cote Rotie. I’m never quite sure exactly what wine writers mean when they say this but I think it refers to wines that tend towards perfume, freshness, a certain (unjammy) sweetness and a lack of tannin. Wines to fall in love with rather than admire. I would also add that like pinot noir all these grapes lose this perfume if the alcohol levels are too high, they are over-cropped or smothered in oak.
Which brings us onto poor unloved cinsault (Benjamin Lewin MW in his Wine Myths and Reality refers to it as a no-name variety – cover your ears cinsault!). It’s best known for making rosé but was also my USP (excuse the marketing jargon) to bring Lebanon’s wines to the attention of the world. I thought it would work better in a blend but it turns out I didn’t really know what I was talking about as there are some varietals cinsaults. The Domergues of Minervois produce a noted age-worthy red Capitelle de Centeilles made solely from this ugly duckling. Whilst I was in the Languedoc not far from Minervois I came across much enthusiasm for cinsault though no one seemed ready to abandon syrah quite yet for their serious reds.
Here’s a delightfully simple version from South Africa where they have large quantities of unloved old vines hence the astonishing cheapness of this version. On the nose it smells of confected raspeberries. It’s not unpleasant but it really does smell like raspberry flavour Mr Freeze ice pops. On the palate I found it spicy, light-bodied and refreshing. Quite nice. I popped it in the fridge and came back to it the next day. The chilling really brought out the fruit and the spice as well as giving it a little structure. Did it taste like pinot noir? Not really but it did do all the things that I would want in a simple Pinot such as a Cono Sur. The more I drink this, the more I like it, my wife likes it too – it’s very quickly on its way to being a house favourite. I can’t wait to try some more serious versions of this unfairly maligned variety. Remember readers, cinsault is for red not just for rosé.
Percheron Old Vines Cinsault 2010, Western Cape, South Africa – widely available. I paid £5.99 from the Wine Society. D. Byrne & Co in Clitheroe have it for only £5.79 – there’s canny Lancastrian buying.