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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.

Aligoté Rap by MS Steven McDonald

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.

Élisabeth & François Jourdan Cinsault Vieilles Vignes

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.

Élisabeth & François Jourdan Cinsault w/ Lentil Soup

Be sure to check out the other French #Winophiles to see what godforsaken French grapes they are providing some love to.

  1. Cinsault is widely believed to be an ancient variety that originated in the Hérault (Languedoc-Roussillon-Midi-Pyrénées region) region of France, but it is also possible that it was brought by traders from the eastern Mediterranean.
  2. Cinsault acreage continues to decline all over the world.

20 Comments

  1. Linda Whipple, CSW
    2 months ago

    Love Cinsault from the Languedoc! Your post gives some great reasons to choose it. And as for that cooking style – that’s what I like to do best: empty the fridge and combine some recipes. Cheers!

    Reply
    1. Kat
      2 months ago

      Nothing like making something out of nothing!

      Reply
  2. Robin Renken
    2 months ago

    I have a bottle from the Bechtold Vineyard! (From Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon) I had no idea the vineyard was so old! I will make a plan to get some escargot before we pop that bottle.

    Reply
    1. Kat
      2 months ago

      I’m actually curious to try an escargot pairing too

      Reply
  3. Terri Steffes
    2 months ago

    Ooo, that soup looks amazing. That is a wonderful pairing. I didn’t think of wine with this soup, but man, now that you have put it together, I am dying to try it.

    Reply
    1. Kat
      2 months ago

      I was pleasantly surprised by the learning.

      Reply
  4. Pinny Tam
    2 months ago

    The pairing of the Cinsault and the Lentil Soup makes perfect sense to me. The pictures are really sharp too!

    Reply
    1. Kat
      2 months ago

      I wasn’t sure about the pairing but it really worked.

      Reply
  5. Wendy Klik
    2 months ago

    I have never tried a cinsault but your article has me anxious to do so.

    Reply
    1. Kat
      2 months ago

      There are some pretty good New World versions out there.

      Reply
  6. Nicole Ruiz Hudson
    2 months ago

    Great post! This looks like such a perfect winter meal. . . . also I agree with you about Pinotage 😉

    Reply
    1. Kat
      2 months ago

      I’ve tried Pinotage but can’t quite get there.

      Reply
  7. Lori
    2 months ago

    I love Cinsault! I would also be happy with a new bottle to try!

    Reply
  8. Robin Bell Renken
    2 months ago

    I had no idea that Bechtold was the oldest Cinsault vineyard in the world! I’m looking forward to diving further into research on them for our next California visit! I also will look a little differently at that bottle of Randall Grahm Bonny Doon Cinsault from that vineyard. That’s a bottle I won’t pull out and drink without further research!

    Reply
    1. Kat
      2 months ago

      It definitely needs to be savored.

      Reply
  9. Jeff
    2 months ago

    Cinsault really is a forgotten gem. I’ve enjoyed a few from France, and William Allen at Two Shepherds makes a beauty from the Bechtold vineyard you mentioned.

    Reply
    1. Kat
      2 months ago

      So many great things from that vineyard.

      Reply
  10. Deanna
    2 months ago

    What a nice find with Cinsault! I love lentil soup too!

    Reply
  11. Deanna
    2 months ago

    What a nice find with Cinsault! I love lentil soup too. It looks so warm and comforting.

    Reply

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