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Grape 57: Cinsaut

Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah

Adopt a Parent, Please
Think which grape you would want to adopt. Riesling? Cabernet? Maybe even Muscat, the original grape of grapes? Chances are Cinsaut isn’t the grape you’re adopting. You’re descended from a noble, regal, princely grape, not Cinsaut, not Bastardo (an actual grape!) – a fashionable, avuncular grape with name recognition. Sorry, South Africa – you just adopted Cinsault. No backsies.

All my legal advice comes from wine blogs
But Cinsaut is a PARENT grape, not a CHILD grape – it can’t be adopted! Babies are for adoption, children are for adoption. Parents are not for adoption. Wrong. Parents are for adoption too, and Cinsaut is your adopted parent, South Africa.

Are You My Mother?
South Africa loves to shine the spotlight on its famous grape – Pinotage – because the grape is truly an African grape, having been created in South Africa in 1925. And because Pinot is so popular, Pinotage is a great name to have on your bottle. Pinot, he’s so hot right now.

Photo Credit to Red Bubble (they sell t-shirts of this?)

Suffix Shame
But shhhhhh, don’t mention that -tage suffix hanging off the end of Pinotage. That’s the part you’re not supposed to notice. Because -tage comes from Hermitage, which is what 1920s South Africa called Cinsaut. And Cinsaut isn’t popular or really, really ridiculously good looking.

Clash of Consonants
Cinsaut grows all over the cheapest part of France, down in the south where even the name is meant to discourage wine consumers: Languedoc-Roussillon. No American has ever pronounced that correctly. It’s just a disaster of consonants.

Halfling Cinsaut
And Cinsaut doesn’t stand on its own – producers blend it in with other grapes (usually Grenache and Carignane) to make balanced, smooth wines. Think of it as the halfling minstrel at your D&D party – it’s not exactly Cinsaut leading the charge into the dragon’s lair.

African Wine Denoument
In a strange twist however, Cinsaut is the perfect grape for adoptive parenthood in South Africa. It performs spectacularly in drought conditions and Algeria loaded up on Cinsaut for exactly that reason. So in a strange twist, Pinotage – that hallmark African grape – owes a very large debt to its adopted African adult Cinsaut since Cinsaut hails from (among others) Algeria, nicely alliterative with Africa. Welcome Home Adopted African Dad!

Adopt This Wine Producer
Andre Brunel is the grandfather who makes this wine. Not sure exactly if he actually is a grandfather but he’s eminently adoptable if he’s up for the role. Just have a look at his twinkling eyes and it’s easy to see how Lucien (co-owner of the estate) fell in love with this man. Maybe wine had something to do with it, maybe not – but he has a lot to teach in the fine art of twinkling eyes.

Rhone in The Cities
Word on Adopted Grandpa Andre is that he makes exceptional Chateauneuf du Pape, probably the most famous (and $$$!) of the wine villages scattered along the French Rhone valley – check out the long blue stretch of France on the map where the buffalo rhone. Fortunately, Grandpa Andre also makes really good cheaper wine that we halfling minstrels can down with Travail food and laughter when visiting family and adopted family in The Cities.

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Very smooth, almost velvety texture. Light black fruit and light spices – nothing too overpowering. Worked really well with dishes from seafood to lamb.

Detail Up!
2008 Andre Brunel from Cotes du Rhone, France (somewhere on that blue line). Sadly, the only Buzz (RIP 2010-2011) for this wine comes from one wine store in Asheville that identifies the grape as 75% Grenache, 15% Cinsaut, and 10% Syrah, from 40 year old vines. No corroboration possible on the internets but my memory recalls this a blend with Cinsaut and others so money’s on the table that this is the wine.

Random Googles:
* Cinsaut is the key grape in Lebanon’s most famous wine, which commands prices equal to small vehicles (or three months worth of antifreeze for my brother’s beater).
* Amusing yet long treatise compares (fairly convincingly) Cinsaut to Posh Spice. Warning – Posh Spice is pretty NSFW.
* Robert Parker, lawyer turned wino, might already have dibs on adopting Andre Brunel. Certainly sounds like it from all the praise.

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King of the Grapes
Just about everything’s already been said about this grape called Cabernet. Pretty much the whole world is in love, and this wino is frankly a little over all the praise. Really, I get it – you love Cabernet Sauvignon. You think it’s the biggest, baddest red on the block and all other reds are a little scared when Cabernet comes strutting down the street with his leather jacket on and his brash, easy charm on full display. He’s the 800 pound gorilla of the red world, the oft-proclaimed, probably self-proclaimed, “King of Grapes.” (Sidebar: the “Queen of Grapes” title generally goes to my favorite grape. she’s probably the true force behind the grape throne)

Bible Wine Time
Really though, this grape is the Grape of Ecclesiastes. Like old school, OT nothing new under the sun grape. Like Noah and Lot showing up sloppy, and Solomon getting a little carried away in his amorous song musings before penning an ode to the sheer brutishness of Cabernet while singing “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Incidentally, I blame The Byrds for all the exclamation points showing up in sentences these days.

Young Candy Cane
Strange thing is, Cab (shortened because it’s that cool) is a pretty young grape. It just FEELS like it’s been around forever (see: Kardashian). Truth is, before the 18th century when Cabernet Franc (a serious sounding, respectable red grape if ever there was one) started shacking up with Sauvignon Blanc (white and minerally as the limestone it loves), there was no Cabernet Sauvignon. But from that moment on, it was everywhere. France, Italy, Chile, California, Australia, Lebanon, probably Fiji and Hawaii for all I know. And what a blend it was. Not since Candy Canes has the world seen such a red-white marriage of elegance.

Napa Obsession
Napa Valley, California’s most famous wine region, has embraced Cab with aplomb typically reserved for reunited lovers at the airport baggage claim. Find Napa on the map, and you find Cab wrapped all over it, smothering it with kisses and making all the other wine regions a little uncomfortable but a little happy at the same time. Famous Napa names in the WoW (“World of Wine” – sorry gamers) often run into the hundreds of dollars a bottle, and the names of Caymus, Cakebread, Screaming Eagle, Mondavi, Opus One and Far Niente all elicit sighs of purple paradise from Cab lovers across the great state of California.

Far Niente
Far Niente, the subject of today’s excess, happens to be a name that two wino friends with incredibly different tastes recommended to try. One friend (Dr. Econ), a lover of big wines and making her dinner guests pass out in her floor from all kinds of delicious paneer makhani (her soporific recipe here), counts Far Niente among her top California wines and she’s BIG into the biggest of California wines so her word is golden. Another friend (Sommi Seleño), a trained sommi who brightens up at the mention of old-growth Verdejo and Romanian dessert wine, highly recommended the Far Niente tour and the wines when discussing highlights of Napa.

Visiting Far Niente
How then to visit Far Niente? Easy – plug in your destination as Far Niente, start your car rolling from its home base in Santa Rosa and drive. Mountains, hills, sun, happiness – you’re nearly there. Then, continuing to follow the directions of Google Maps, continue left onto a dirt path into the middle of a giant field of grapes (is this even a road? Gmaps says it is), continue past the giant fan that spits water onto the field, wave to the migrant workers taking a water break, turn right at the third giant fan in the middle of the field and continue right until you emerge onto pavement. Only then notice the “No Trespassing” sign. Destination reached – thanks Google Maps, you knew we wanted the full (illegal) tour of the Far Niente facilities.

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Detail Up!
Far Niente 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California, USA – 94% Cab with 3% each of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot

“Dusty velvet draped around an iron fist” – that’s what I remember precisely. True, this wino wasn’t taking the best of notes given all the food, friends and general mayhem (courtesy of a night spent crashing with Dr. Econ) but definitely remember a really long finish that kept finding new tastes every time a breath was taken. *Breath* (plums?) *Breath* (dutch candy?) *Breath* (currant?) *Breath* (chocolate?) *Sigh* (another glass?)

Random Googles:
* Far Niente – meaning “sweet doing nothing” aka “not a care” aka “hakuna matata” – is one of the oldest Napa wineries going back to 1885.
* Bordeaux in France originated Cab and has led some to speculate that it’s the reason the Anglo world is slightly obsessed with Cab. Others say it’s because Cab grows really well globally. Both camps agree the obsession is hard to resist.
* Few wines are bigger than Cab (i.e. have more tannins – that smacking where your tongue gets stuck in your mouth), which is why Cab is usually thought of as the heaviest red wine. There are some wines that can be bigger though – Tannat and certain Italian grapes can go bigger.

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Minor Key of Grapes
Minor grapes are usually minor for a reason. Too acidic, too tannic, too sexy for your glass. Once in a great while, minor grapes also produce minor miracles. Think Cahors – a grape headed for extinction in France that takes an ocean voyage in its junior year of college to “discover itself” and ends up in Argentina. Goodbye Cahors, hello Malbec!

Petit Bordeaux
Petit Verdot is one such minor grape that gets buried at the bottom of the wine label, in the part that nobody reads except those really fastidious, tedious wine geeks searched for their pH buzz. Try and name the grapes that go into classic, famous Bordeaux. Cabernet – check. Merlot – check. Ummmmmm…. Cabernet Franc? Yes. And some others – correct. Turns out those “others,” at least in the red Bordeaux, are Malbec/Cahors and Petit Verdot (RIP Carmenere). Petit What? – correct.

Petit Out of Favor
Petit Verdot has that too _____ flaw. In this Mad Libs experiment, the ________ is “late-ripening” so it’s been falling out of favor in the old world faster than Greeks at a Central Banker retreat. New Worlds have new ways however, and the US, Argentina and Chile have taken up the banner of the crestfallen Petit Greek. California is one of the biggest producer since they’re big into Meritage wines that seek to replicate the Bordeaux blends and often do just that. 1976 – a great year for the California wine industry. Happy Birthday USA!

Minor no more, this is Petit Verdot in its 100% pure form. Ah-hem… this is rare. Not blended, not subsumed, this is Petit Verdot stepping out from the background. Ringo, please take this solo. We’ll manage the cymbal.

So, what’s Ringo do with his solo? He goes dark, very dark. Dark in the glass, dark in the mouth. Thinking blackberry and that black British currant jam they sell at overpriced supermarkets. Really pretty balanced and full… at least until you try tasting it after a couple California Cabs – then it feels thin and anorexic. Moral of the story – save your Cabs for another day and focus on the wine at hand. This one’s an impressive, rare example.

Detail Up!
100% Petit Verdot 2008 Ferrari Carano from the USA out in Dry Creek Sonoma, California

Random Googles
* Peh-teet ver-dough. Sounds way hotter (and more pastry-like) than it’s spelled.
* Keep an eye on Virgina – not just for all those presidents it turned out. It’s now looking to be a big Petit Verdot player.
* Ros̩ Petit Verdot Рapparently, it exists. And is even pretty good, according to this guy.

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Grape Controversy
Grape or no grape? There’s some controversy regarding Tai Rosso. Certain authorities argue that Tai Rosso is exactly the same as Grenache. Certain other authorities argue that it’s a relative of Grenache.

Style all its own
One thing they agree on is that the Tai Rosso style is completely different. You would never guess you’re drinking Grenache. This wine is a light, fruity wine that has more to do with a hot tub and a summer night than with Spanish guitars and heavy chorizo. Light, light and light are how you’d describe the wine – light color, light body, light taste on the tongue.

Outdoors with the Bears
This last weekend there were no hot tubs with the wine but nobody really cared. The Zapatos treated a select few to outdoorsy goodness, complete with black bears and (tame?) skinny dips. One of the afternoons involved hard-core chilling – in the sun, on the porch, with the grill – and Tai Rosso arrived to fill an unknown void.

Only in Italy… and Jersey
Finding Tai Rosso planted in the ground involves a long journey. Ticket to Rome, train to the northeast of Italy, obligatory Romeo & Juliet stop in Verona and then just east of Verona – Tai Rosso. For over 700 years, the grape’s been grown in the region. Fortunately, some importers in Jersey have made it much easier and the wine’s now available in that favorite state of the 50. So, save the flight money, rent the Romeo & Juliet movie (1968 Zeffirelli preferably) and grab that bottle off the nearest PATH exit.

Detail Up!
Tai Rosso Rezzadore 2009 by Colli Berici from Lonigo, Veneto Italy

Light red, chilled, taste of black cherries. Few tannins – excellent for the outdoors

Random Googles:
* Tai Rosso used to be called Tocai Rosso – then Hungary complained about the similarity to their famous wine and bam – Tai Rosso. No word from Thailand whether they will complain.
* Tai Rosso is one of the grapes that show up in the Italian DOC of Colli Berici, a wine region first recognized in 1973
* One of the Top 10 undiscovered wines of Northeastern Italy in 2011 (sidebar – pretty narrow criteria, no?)

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Denali in Italy
Italy is my Mount McKinley. I know I’ll never climb it and won’t ever have the view from the top looking down across the rest of the North American molehills. Most of the time it’s not even possible to see the top (only 10% of visitors to Alaska actually see it), let alone think what it’d be like to stand at the top of it. But on rare days, the clouds part and you can see the top of the mountain, what its side looks like and start to imagine what a model of it would look like. Yes, my parents just got back from Alaska and have lots of stories to share – especially about Mt. McKinley/Denali.

Confused? Join the Club
Italy is exactly that intimidating and obfuscated. Somewhere out there experts on Italy’s wines must exist but I’ve never met anyone who dares to claim that they’re an expert on Italian wines. That’s just outrageous given the hundreds of grapes grown around the country. Provinces, territories, and little towns all seem to have their own type of wine and grape that’s just grown in that area.

Wikipedia talks about 350 “authorized” grapes used in Italy’s wines and estimates another 500 grapes are unauthorized. No doubt each of those grapes has a history and culture associated with it, and it’d be many lifetimes to really conquer all that knowledge. Two of NYC’s more famous chefs have written a book on it and lived a good amount of wine indulging so maybe they’re experts. Me though, I’m just happen to get a look at the mountain on a clear day once in awhile.

Puglia Pleasure Pour
Today’s glimpse of McKinely is Negroamaro, a dark grape that comes pretty much exclusively from Puglia, the heel of Italy. Negroamaro showed up at a tasting of Puglia wines last weekend with my friends the Zapatos and a recent NY friend transplant who hails from Puglia, but sadly I did not show up at that same tasting. Friday night firedrills got the better of me so the Zapatos & Co. got all the Puglia pleasure pours. To grieve the lost Friday, this bottle was later ordered with friends to commemorate the night of Puglia.

Yanks of Puglia
Turns out – Negroamaro is not just a Puglian wine, it’s a new grape to me, and one that only the Puglians make. (Puglians? Pugliers? Pugilists? No idea) Earthy, rustic, and unknown – those are the words that I turned up the most looking through the internets. Best I can tell, it’s only in Puglia that people grown this wine but they make a lot of it down there. Primitivo (Italy’s Zin) takes some of the vines but Negroamaro is the Yankees in Puglia, and Primitivo is at best the Mets. Not that it’s bankrupt and finally at a break-even .500 winning percentage or anything – it’s just that it’s not as prevalent as the ubiquitous Negroamaro hats that all the celebrities wear in Puglia.

Latin-Greek Lovefest
Negroamaro – translated, somewhat strangely, as “black-black.” Negro is straight-up black in pretty much all Latin languages and amaro is actually “bitter” but the wine’s not bitter at all. Strange right? Right, except that Puglia’s about one trireme ride (thanks Civ 1) from Greece and the Greek word for black is “maru.” Hnce, in a rare application of Latin-Greek knowledge, Negroamaro breaks down as “black-black.”

No photo from me – just the notes scribbled on the crackberry before the food arrived and the wine disappeared. Strong nose, tobacco – taste of raspberry and black cherry, long finish with some tannins, not overpowering. Squid ink – guaranteed to spill on white shirts.

Detail Up!
Rocca Bella 2009 IGT from Puglia, Italy for $8-12. Sadly, nobody on the web has talked about this wine and the producer has no pics so next best thing is this really good blog that hits the 2007 version.

Random Googles:
* Puglia Pride runs deep with this guy – check out his Top 10 Negroamaro list if you like your wines squiddy.
* Negroamaro doubles as an Italian rock band that’s gaining mainstream popularity. Any guess where they’re from?
* Salice Salentino is Puglia’s most famous wine they say, and it’s a blend with mostly Negroamaro. Good value wine too.

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