Cinsault is an ancient red wine grape varietal that is believed to have its origins in the Hérault region of southern France. But it could have been brought by traders from the eastern Mediterranean. The vine can produce heavy crops, but quality wines are achieved if yields are controlled. Cinsault is drought resistant but can be susceptible to disease, so appreciates a dry climate - this heat tolerance and productivity make it important in Bandol and Languedoc-Roussillon southern French.
It is also one of the most planted varietals in Algeria and Morocco, and is a major red varietal in Corsica, Lebanon, Tunisia and South Africa. It can also be found scattered around Italy and Eastern Europe and Australia also has some Cinsault planted in small volumes.

 

In South Africa the grape was originally known as ‘Hermitage’ - slightly confusing, since the famed French Hermitage wines are Syrah based. When a South African professor crossed Cinsault with Pinot Noir, he named it Pinotage - and is now the country's signature red wine. France has more Cinsault planted (50,000 hectares) than Cabernet Sauvignon and there is as much Cinsault vines planted in its former colony and wine region of Algeria.
Cinsault is one of those varietals enjoyed by ‘grape-growers’ as it easily produces a very large crop of 15 to 25 tons per hectare. Cinsault can be over-cropped and used as a filler-grape, and has found it difficult to get respect from many wine critics. With cluster stems that easily detach from the vine, Cinsault adapts well to machine harvesting. It produces large cylindrical, tight bunches of black grapes with fairly thick skins. It is often blended with grapes such as Grenache and Carignan to add softness and bouquet.
When properly managed to a crop load of just 5 to 10 tons per hectare, it can produce quite flavourful wines with engaging aromas and soft tannins, and easily drinkable in its youth. Cinsault grapes can also be made into Rosé wines or blended, to brighten the fruit and tone down the harsher edges of Carignan in particular. Although officially an approved varietal in Châteauneuf du Pape, it is used by only a few producers in their blends.