A few of the wine groups that I engage with virtually have been exploring the theme of ‘godforsaken grapes’ based on the book by Jason Wilson of the same name. Last month, I wrote about Tannat wines for the January #winePW virtual event. The theme of the #winePW group is to explore wine and food pairings. This month, another group, the French #Winophiles, is continuing the theme of ‘godforsaken grapes’ with indigenous French varieties.
The focus of the French #Winophiles group is, as you may have guessed, French wine. When I first saw February’s theme, my mind instantly went to Aligoté as I’ve been fangirling over it for the last year or so. There’s even an Aligoté rap by Houston Master Sommelier Steven McDonald that literally sings the praises of this very much godforsaken grape. But since I’d previously written a post about it, I decided to go in a different direction. However, if you’re interested in the rap, take a listen.
One of the questions I’m often asked by people new to wine is “How do I transition to red wines?” And while many times I’ll point them in the direction of Pinot Noir or Gamay, it got me to thinking about other red varieties that could also fill this role. Typically I’m looking for an easy-drinking wine that has a lower level of tannins. Enter Cinsault (also spelled Cinsaut) that is indigenous to France,1 certainly godforsaken,2 and a great wine for those transitioning into reds. While used mostly as a blending grape (it’s often found with Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre to add softness and aromatics) as well as in those juicy French rosé wines we love so much, there are varietal Cinsault wines in the market.
Cinsault has long been used in bulk, low-quality wines due to its high yields. But when it’s yields are reduced, it results in smoother, richer, more focused wines. It prefers hot and dry climates and is fairly drought-resistant. Outside of France, Cinsault can be found in a number of countries including Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon, Italy, Corsica, Tunisia, Australia, and more. And in the USA, it is the source of some of the country’s oldest vines. In fact, the Bechtold vineyard in Lodi, California, which was planted in 1885 by Joseph Spenker, is the oldest Cinsaut vineyard in the world. In addition to California (hello Turley Cinsault!), Cinsault can also be found in Texas (I’ve had a few good ones) and Washigton State. And in South Africa, it was previously known as “Hermitage” (not to be confused with the Northern Rhone region) and participated (along with Pinot Noir) in the most unholy crossing that gave us Pinotage. Yeah, I said what I said.
Like any variety, there are some generalized characteristics of the variety but there are also exceptions. Generally, Cinsault is smooth with soft tannins and has fresh red fruit characteristics – strawberry, red cherry, raspberry, and red currant. It also tends to offer up sweet spices like cardamom as well as floral notes and some earthiness. In a nutshell, it tends to be an easy-going wine that can take a slight chill for summer, please big crowds at parties, or even stand up to those difficult to pair holiday meals.
Because it is lighter-bodied with softer tannins, Cinsault can pair with a variety of foods. I’ve read that a classic match for Cinsault is escargot, but since I have to feed Thing 1 and Thing 2 and they would rather die of starvation before eating a snail (at least for now), I had to come up with something more practical. Escargot aside, Cinsault can also pair well with stews, braised and roasted pork and chicken, smoked seafood, roasted or grilled vegetables, pizza, and even Thai or Indian cuisines.
Élisabeth & François Jourdan Cinsault Vieilles Vignes + Lentil, Ham & Greens Soup
On a recent trip out to the “big freezer” in my garage, I came across bags upon bags of lentils, smoked ham hocks, and a lot of other irrelevant stuff. So off I went to my iPad to search and see what recipes would pop up for lentils and ham hocks. And lo and behold, I found a recipe by famed Louisiana chef Emeril Lagasse! Reading the recipe sort of reminded me of some of the white bean and greens soups I’d found like this one from the New York Times. So I did what I always do and combined parts of both recipes to my liking. So we ended up with a lentil soup with smoked hocks and mustard greens. We added some warm crusty bread and voila! We had a meal for a couple of days that was perfect for the cold, rainy spell we were in.
For our wine, we chose the 2017 Élisabeth & François Jourdan Cinsault Vieilles Vignes from the Languedoc region.
It was quality sipper with quite an aromatic nose. Fresh with juicy raspberry and strawberry along with a touch of herbs, fruit spice, and floral notes. Smooth with fine-grained tannins and pronounced acidity. And only $15. Great QPR on this one.
So how did the soup match up to the Cinsault? Both the meal and the wine had a simplistic rusticity to them that melded seamlessly together. Hot soup can be a challenge to pair with wine, but this duo performed well. Almost as well as my gumbo and Bordeaux Blanc combo. The soft, supple red fruit along with the wine’s acidity allowed it to pair well with the earthiness and smokiness of the soup. And the low level of tannins helped the wine to not overpower the soup. Not only would I make this soup again in a heartbeat, I wouldn’t hesitate to pair it with Cinsault.
Be sure to check out the other French #Winophiles to see what godforsaken French grapes they are providing some love to.
- A Special Wine for A Special Night by A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Aligoté Emerging from the Shadows by Food Wine Click!
- Asian BBQ Sauce-Glazed Pork Chops + Domaine Trosset's Mondeuse d'Arbin by Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- A Wine Geek Explores Jura’s Native Grapes, Part I by My Full Wine Glass
- Cooking to the Wine: Clos Cibonne Tibouren Cuvée Tradition Rosé & Savory Citrus Chicken with Couscous by Somm's Table
- Drinking Les Rocailles Apremont Savoie Jacquère and Eating Homemade Fish Paste by Chinese Food & Wine Pairings
- Forlorn in France, Flourishing in the New World? Malbec! by Wine Predator
- Great French Wines You Might Not Know...But Should! by Cooking Chat
- Alpine Fresh, Sulfite Free Jacquère Wine Is Not Pure White by Asian Test Kitchen
- Tannat and Pasta, a Surprising Combination! by Our Good Life
- Though the Mountains May Crumble...Apremont and Some Alpine Pairings by Crushed Grape Chronicles