Cinsuat: a happy medium for Morris Wines

Morris Wines chief winemaker David Morris.

Understandably too pressed for time due to the oncoming 2019 vintage to tap out an article on Morris Wines’ history with Cinsaut, chief winemaker David Morris managed to spare a few moments with journalist Rhys Howlett to share the story. The Morris family have been growing Cinsaut in Victoria’s Rutherglen region since at least the 1920s.

When and how was the Cinsaut originally planted?

We’ve got vines still bearing fruit which were planted in 1920. We don’t know whether they were our first planting or whether we had one before that. I’m pretty sure Cinsaut came into the country in the early 1900s. We did a replanting operation after phylloxera. There were two schools of thought: fumigate the soils and replant it, or plant on resistant rootstocks. Apparently we fumigated the soils and replanted, and then they fell over. Whether Cinsaut was part of that I don’t know but definitely in 1920, which was our second fruit planting, we planted Cinsaut at 3.3 metres by 1.8 metres, single-wire, Aussie Sprawl.

What are the challenges in the vineyard?

It’s a late-ripening variety so getting it ripe enough is always the big challenge, even with the warmth of Rutherglen. It’s one of the last varieties to come off, definitely the last of all our reds. It hasn’t been as great a problem for myself, with the last few decades being warm and dry, but it probably was a battle for my father. It is very late in the season so you are gambling a little bit with the weather and while it’s a big berry and reasonably thick-skinned it does give you a little bit of a botrytis problem because it’s the end of the season. When it does botrytise we only get a bit of it because the bunches are relatively tight and often against each other. We can selectively hand-pick; it’s always been hand-picked. We’ve got the 1920s planting, then another block planted in the 1950s and another block planted about 2000. Most of our vines are fairly old so hand-picking is the most appropriate for them.
All our vineyards are dry-grown. The Cinsaut is down in the lowest part of the vineyard because we don’t want to put the early-ripening varieties down there or they’ll be frosted, and there’s more moisture-holding capacity down there.
In drought conditions the grapes can be too concentrated and not quite fleshy or voluptuous enough. This year has been so dry that even the dry-grown vines have struggled.

What is the winemaking process for your Cinsaut and how has it changed over the years?

Cinsaut is a very large berry, it’s relatively pale in skin colour with a fairly heavy bloom. Not deep in colour, not black, probably more blue in colour. A very big berry, very big bunches, you’d think you’re putting a table grape through. We try and get to 14 Baume. Sometimes we’ve got to settle for under that. It still makes a pretty solid wine at 13 Baume but ideally 14. We crush them into open fermenters. At the crusher we add tartaric acid; we add a little bit of tannin. We add the yeast a day after. Overnight the cap floats, we’ll drain off, inoculate with yeast and put the heading down boards, submerged cap. I’m still doing things the same way my father did, maybe I might add a touch more tartaric acid, and he didn’t add tannin, but just minor changes. It’s normally about a seven-day ferment. It might get pressed off with just a little bit of sugar left to finish off in barrel; older, large oak, 1590 litres or 2500 litres through malo. As time prevails it will go into hogsheads, both American and French, predominantly French because of its elegance. We might put a component of new oak in there; we’re averaging probably three-year-old oak and as a medium-bodied wine it only needs 10 months in oak. Then it sits in bottle to settle before release.

What’s in a name? From Blue Imperial to Cinsaut and back again.

We called it Blue Imperial right at the start. We don’t really know why, whether when the cuttings came in the tags had washed off them! Imperial was often a measurement, big, and it had a blue look to it. I’ve got no idea, that’s a guess. It was called Blue Imperial through Rutherglen, Ulliade in New South Wales and probably Barossa and some people called it Cinsaut, so it had three names in Australia. We had a marketing fellow come along and said it really should be called its correct name so we labelled it Cinsaut with Blue Imperial underneath. Then another marketing fellow came along and said, “what are you calling it Cinsaut for, it’s Blue Imperial, it always has been!” So we’ve actually changed it back to Blue Imperial. It has always had Cinsaut on the back label. I like Cinsaut for its medium-bodied character. In Rutherglen we have Shiraz and Cabernet and Durif, the full-bodied styles. I find medium-bodied wines pretty enjoyable. It’s got a nice fruitiness to it, a little bit of spice, fine-grained chalky tannins. It’s got a lovely, flavoursome, mid-palate with elegance. A great lunch wine.


Cinsaut (SIN-soh) originated in the south of France where it was first mentioned in the 17th century. Although it is still a major variety in France (21,000ha in 2010), the planted area has more than halved since the late 1970s and is largely restricted to Provence, Languedoc and Roussillon. In the 19th century, large areas were planted in Algeria and Morocco (where it is still the most planted variety) in order to supply wine to France. In South Africa it was the most important variety until the 1990s — today there are just 2000ha or so. There are also significant plantings in Italy (Puglia), Chile and Lebanon. The global area (2010) is 36,000ha (25% less than in 2000).

Synonyms include Black Malvoisie (California), Black Prince and Blue Imperial (Australia), Cargadora (Chile), Cinqsaut (Languedoc), Cinsault (France, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia) Grecau (Sardinia), Hermitage (South Africa), Marroquin, Marrouquin and Ottavianello (Puglia), Picardan Noir (Var), Piquepoul d’Uzès, Prunelat and Prunellas (Gironde), Samsó and Sinsó (Spain).

Cinsaut has been in Australia for many years but now there is only 60ha or so planted, with at least 20 wine producers, mainly in South Australia.


Budburst is late and maturity is mid-season.  Vigour is moderate with spreading growth habit. Bunches are medium to large and well-filled to compact with medium tough-skinned berries. Yield is high. Spur pruning is mainly used. Susceptibility to foliar and bunch fungal diseases is average, but risk of trunk diseases is said to be high. It is well adapted to hot and dry sites.


Cinsaut wines are generally light-bodied, soft, fruity and aromatic with low tannin. Most often it is regarded as a ‘workhorse’ variety, but wines from low-yielding, dry-farmed bush vines in France, South Africa and Chile can be medium-bodied, well balanced and delicately perfumed with fresh strawberry and cherry notes. In the south of France and in Australia, Cinsaut is mainly used in blends with Carignan, Grenache and other varieties. It can produce good quality rosé wines.

For further information on this and other emerging varieties, contact Marcel Essling ([email protected] or 08 8313 6600) at The Australian Wine Research Institute to arrange the presentation of the Alternative Varieties Research to Practice program in your region.