Three C’s – Cinsault, Carignan and Criolla

Tired of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon? Looking for something different? Unique? Slightly obscure? Try one of the other wines that start with the letter “C” – Cinsault, Carignan and Criollo. These three grapes occupy a niche, but they hold important positions in the wine world within specific regions. Combined, they make up less than one percent of the wine consumed. They may not be easy to find but these wines are reemerging and definitely worth looking out for.

— Cinsault

Cinsault is originally from Southern France. Today the major growing areas are in Southern France, North Africa (where it is the most produced grape in Morocco), Italy (where it is called Ottavianello), Lebanon, South Africa (where is it called Hermitage), and the New World (where you will find it spelled Cinsaut or Cinsault).

In 1925, Cinsaut and Pinot Noir were crossed to make Pinotage. Cinsault is a delicate grape but it is high yielding. It can tolerate high heat and drought but is prone to wood disease and chlorosis. Cinsault is ideally suited to warm, dry soils and it holds acidity well during ripening. Cinsault is a dark-skinned grape that has typically been used as a blending component in Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.

As a single varietal wine, Cinsault is a pale ruby color with red berry, cranberry, rose and violet aromas. On the palate, Cinsault can be soft with bright acidity.

Suggested wines:

  • 2017 Savage Wines, Follow the Line, Cinsault, Darling Coastal Region, South Africa
  • 2017 Two Shepherds Ancient Vine Cinsault, Bechthold Vineyard, Lodi
  • 2017 McPherson Cellars, Cinsault, Texas
  • 2018 Turley Bechthold Vineyard, Cinsault, Lodi

— Carignan

Carignan is originally from northeastern Spain. Today, it can be found in Spain in Rioja (where it is called Mazuela or Mazuelo), Aragon (where it is called Carinena) and Catelonia (where it is called Samso).

In southern France, it is found in the Languedoc-Roussillon, Southern Rhone and Provence and can be written as Carignan, Carignan Noir or Carignane. In Sardinia, Italy, it is called Carignano, Bovale di Spagna or Bovale Grande and in the New World, it will be labeled Carignon, Carignane or Carinena.

Carignan was widely planted in southern France following phylloxera due to its high yields but has since been replaced by Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Carignan is a vigorous, high-yielding, late-budding and late-ripening grape. It requires a lot of heat, and needs a dry climate as it is prone to mildew thanks to its tight clusters. Carnignan produces a medium-bodied wine with aromas of dark and black fruit, pepper, licorice and baking spices.

Suggested wines:

  • 2016 Two Shepherds Carignan, Trimble Vineyard, Mendocino
  • 2015 Domaine Lafage, “Terresslae Vielles Vignes” Carignan, Cotes Catalanes
  • 2014 Ridge Vineyards Buchignani Ranch, Old Vine, Carignane, Sonoma County
  • 2013 Cantina Santadi Terre Brune, Carignano del Sulcis Superiore DOC

— Criollo

Criollo is a term for grapes of Iberian descent growing in South America. It means “creole” and refers to a family of grape varieties. It was originally found in Castilla La Mancha pre-phylloxera.

Today, 70 acres of Moscatel Negro or Listan Prieto, as Criollo is called, can be found in the Canary Islands in Spain. In Argentina, it is called Pais and is often distilled or made into rosé or light reds. In California, we know this grape as the Mission grape. Offspring of Criollo include Cereza, Torrontes Riojano and Torrontes Sanjuanino in Argentina and Quebranta in Peru.

Criollo varieties are vigorous, high-yielding and tolerant of drought but they lose acidity quickly. The grapes are prone to Pierce’s disease and Crown Gall disease. It is common for Criollo varieties to be made with carbonic maceration, fortified or made as rosés.

Criollo varieties are pale in color with notes of tart red fruit, such as strawberry, raspberry and cranberry, as well as floral and earthy aromas with notes of eucalyptus. On the palate, the wines are low in tannins but moderate acidity.

Suggested wines:

  • 2017 Garage Wine Co, 215 BC Ferment, Pais, Secano Interior Portezuelo, Maule, Chile
  • 2017 Vina Gonzales Bastias, “Mattoral”, Pais, Maule Valley, Chile
  • 2017 J Bouchon Pais Viejo Maule, Chile

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.