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Tripping the Light Red Fantastic

Tripping the Light Red Fantastic

Transcendent light reds illuminate the past while ushering in the future of viticulture.

Malu Lambert investigates for South African Connoisseur magazine.

The thirst for ‘light reds’ at first glance seems a modern affectation, a consequence of hipster wine bars and the like. Look deeper and the truth is South Africa has always had a penchant for lighter styles of wine. Not completely by design as the use of new oak is rather more contemporary, the increased availability in the mid-80s saw the onset of the Parkerapproved blockbusters. Before that, juicy Cinsault dominated the red wine industry.

You may have been unwittingly imbibing cinsault long before it got its hipster credentials. It was the main component in blends like Tassenberg, and Chateau Libertas. The former dates back to 1932 and is thought to be South Africa’s oldest red blend. Before ‘sense of place’ was a thing in South Africa, the majority of the wines were blends based on Cabernet and Cinsault with some Syrah, Tinta Barroca and Pinotage. Most of which were labelled as ‘Dry Red’.

Sommelier and fine wine consultant Higgo Jacobs has long been a champion of light reds. In his work for Strauss & Co Fine Wine Auctions he unearths rare wines that offer a snapshot view into the past. These wines illustrate how well South African wines can age, particularly Pinotage as well as Cinsault blends. 

He also enjoys drinking them. Drinkability being the keystone of this refreshing category. Says Jacobs: “The idea of holding out on reds until dinner, or even worse, winter is out-dated and limiting. I can’t think of a better al fresco companion than a crunchy Cinsault or Grenache Noir. There’s just something about the drying, appetising effect of fine tannins on a light, chilled red that I find more refreshing than many whites.” Cinsault has long rode tandem with Chenin as a workhorse variety in the national vineyard...

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