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The Counoise Grape

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About Counoise

(Synonyms: Aubon, Caula, Conese, Connoges, Connoise, Couneso, Counoise noir, Counoiso, Counoueiso, Damas noir, Grosse Rogettaz, Guenoise, Moustardier, Quennoise)

Background

Counoise grapes Map showing the Rhone Valley region of France.

Counoise is a red-wine grape originating in the Rhone Valley region of France, which remains its primary source; there are also, however, some plantings in the U.S. (notably in Californian and Washington State).

Counoise is another of the many grapes traditionally used chiefly or wholly as components of blends, but now attracting some attention as an interesting monovarietal. When made with appropriate care, it can produce a red-fruit, medium-bodied wine of some interest and even complexity. It is not unlike a Beaujolais or Gamay, but perhaps somewhat spicier.

Factoid: Counoise is sometimes confused with the Aubun grape, in good part because it was once common to have the two grown together in "field blends"; but Aubun is considered distinctly lower in quality than Counoise.


Some Descriptions of Counoise Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Counoise adds a peppery note and good acidity to a blended red wine, but does not have much depth of colour or tannin."

  • Palate Press

    "Counoise, when consumed on its own, is a fruit-forward wine with a plum and garnet color, boasting hints of cherry and raspberry, soft tannins, medium acidity, and an earthy finish. A lack of strong tannins and oxidative tendencies make it better for early drinking than long aging."

  • Tablas Creek Winery

    "Counoise is a deep purple-red, and has a rich, spicy character, with flavors of anise, strawberries, and blueberries. . . In years of noteworthy intensity, Counoise also makes a delicious single-varietal wine with the character of a Cru Beaujolais: earth, spice, intense floral fruit, light body, vibrant acidity and soft tannins, ideal for drinking in the first 2-4 years.

  • Wine Searcher

    "Counoise is often described as a peppery and spicy grape variety, but it also adds much in the way of plum and wild berry (strawberry and raspberry) flavors. Secondary notes of anise and licorice have also been described in some varietal examples. Counoise is mostly used in blends because the variety lacks deep color, strong tannins and potential alcohol. However, it does provide good acidity and in Provence it is used to make crisp and lively rosé wine, while in California there is an increasing trend towards producing varietal Counoise wines."

  • Exalted Rations

    "I’d thumbnail sketch [Counoise] to you as a sort of sophisticated, cool-site California Pinot Noir made by a European winemaker, or more esoterically, but perhaps more accurately, like a good Austrian St. Laurent."

  • rhone-wines.com

    "Wines made from Counoise are light in colour. They are delicate and fruity in flavour, with a variety of fruity, floral and spicy notes."

  • Municipal Wine Makers

    "It tastes like a round, fleshy berry… full of berries… but it also has a cool rustic character as well as some spice and savory leather notes to keep it interesting. Those characters increase with some time in the bottle. Counoise bears some resemblance to Grenache, but the tannins are much softer. This is a wine that is meant to be consumed within a couple years, when you can enjoy the pretty perfume and aromas…"

  • McCrea cellars

    "Much as with Cinsault, the grape produces very large berries, but with proper irrigation and some amount of saignee in the cellar, it can offer wines of red-purple color, scented with blue plum, tart cherry pie and cranberry. It has great acidity, is a good blender, yet is a perfect stand-alone red…"

  • Kobrand Wine

    "Counoise shows fruit, finesse and complexity when properly cultivated, but can be light and bitter when overcropped. It does not have much color or tannin, but brings good acidity to Châteauneuf-du-Pape blends."


Some Counoises to Try

(About this list.)

As with many a once-minor but now-blossoming grape, the monovarietals tend to be chic and priced accordingly. Within our self-imposed upper limit of $20, there are really only three monovarietal bottlings generally available: one French and two American. As you will see, only one is even close to being 100% Counoise: they vary from 90-something down to 75%, but each should represent the grape and its wines well enough. (Note that if one raises the price bar, selection expands greatly: there are something like a dozen and a half more American Counoises in the range of $20 to $40.)

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Vignobles Paul Jeune Domaine de Monpertuis "La Counoise de Jeune", $12 - $15.
    (This wine contains a rather small infusion of Alicante, which is probably a synonym for Grenache.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Garnet, clear but dark. An earthy mix of herbaceous and fruit aromas: Black plums and prunes jostle for position with black and white pepper and a "sappy" note as distinct as biting into a fresh stalk of alfalfa hay. Plums and fragrant pepper on the palate, mouth-filling and tart, with substantial but smooth tannins helping to build a sturdy structure.

    [T]his Old World counoise is deep amethyst in color and exhibits a "hot" nose and high acidity that mirrors the minerality of its terroir. Dry and earthy, this bottling offers a generous amount of tannins. However, allow it to open up to experience ripe, red fruit that elevates its Old World characteristics to a wine that ideally compliments a fatty and substantial fish like halibut.

    The nose is black pepper and ripe fruit. In the mouth it is acidic and alcoholic but in a good way with spice and a peppy finish.

    Surprisingly complex wine from a lesser known French varietal (but well-known Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer) struts out black plum flavors layered under oak chips, forest floor and darkly-roasted vegetables. Full, long finish sustains interest long after the first sip; somewhat apparent alcohol and relative lack of finesse are the only signs of its relatively humble origins. Still a steal — how often do you drink 100 percent counoise? Rated 88.

    This was much better on the second night. The light nose revealed cherry candy. In the mouth there were hard grapey, red fruit, which were dry. The flavors morphed towards cranberry with a bit more intensity thought still light in aspect. There were almost ripe tannins in balance with the fruit and acidity.

    In the glass, it is medium red. The nose shows a simple earthy fruitiness with overripe black fruit. On the palate, the Domaine de Monpertuis Counoise brings the black fruit forward and coats them with light tannins. A slight wash of white over the blackness. Two stars out of five. Better to my mind as part of a blend than as its own varietal.

    It displays some spices and tannins and a good finish. The wine can be cellared and enjoyed for 2 to 3 more years. Excellent value for the price.

    It's rustic and earthy, a jumble of dark plum, fragrant pepper, "green" herbaceousness and tart, mouth-watering acidity, it's a real wine-geek's wine, good for studying a range of Old World descriptors. . . Garnet, clear but dark. An earthy mix of herbaceous and fruit aromas: Black plums and prunes jostle for position with black and white pepper and a "sappy" note as distinct as biting into a fresh stalk of alfalfa hay. Plums and fragrant pepper on the palate, mouth-filling and tart, with substantial but smooth tannins helping to build a sturdy structure.

    Medium red color. Dark chocolate, black currant, grape jam, and black pepper on the nose. Blackberry, black currants, pepper on the palate. Huge plum finish. Tannic and dry. Also hints of metals on the finish and some charred oak. This is pretty complex for a $13 wine. Definitely a hidden treasure in its price category. This often overlooked varietal that makes an appearance in Chateaneuf-du-Pape shines in this bottle. One of the better value wines out there in marketplace. 88 points.

    It had a deep garnet-red color and a discreet nose of pepper and black fruits. On the palate, it was rich, spicy and mouthfilling with a lively acidity on the finish.

    Deep and "natural" blackish purple color. Open, perfumed, even lightly aromatic nose of black raspberry, plum, brown spice, licorice, slate, and brown leaves. The medium bodied palate opens smooth, supple, and elegant, and with a notable power as well, revealing dark flavors of roasted meat, flowers, strawberry preserves, and blueberries that are very well supported by sweet, polished tannins, and a fresh acidity that seamlessly frames the the pure, sweet "country" fruit. Finishes clean and dry. A wonderful balance of sophistication and rusticity.

    The grape makes for a light and bright red, perfect for drinking on any old weeknight throughout the summer. It's peppery and has good acidity--you might even want to drink it slightly chilled.


  • Wines of Substance Counoise, $13 - $16.
    (This wine contains about 25% Syrah, its usual partner in the Rhône.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Aged in 100% neutral French oak, this 2009 American Counoise exhibits a signature burgundy hue that looks slightly darker than your typical Pinot Noir. Spicy and sultry, this wine tickles the back of the palate just as you begin to detect hints of vanilla, raspberries, and loam. While it demonstrates its youth, Substance’s Counoise is ready to be paired with a French country dinner of roasted rosemary chicken and red potatoes. It is enjoyable by the glass but its beautiful, tight structure requires some decanting before serving.

    Labeled Columbia Valley, it’s nonetheless mostly Walla Walla grapes from the Forgotten Hills vineyard. A unique wine, with light strawberry fruit, strong natural acids, light tannins, and some of the spiciness of Carmenère. 87 points.

    The 2009 Co[unoise] is a great example of what Counoise can do on its own. Being harvested from the Forgotten Hills Vineyard within the Walla Walla AVA, one familiar with the site can expect some serious terroir funk. Aromatically, this wine is expressive, inviting and bright. Right away, you will smell bing cherry, peppercorn and wet cobblestone. On the palate, the Co dances around beautifully with great acidity and flavors of cherry cola, iodine and white pepper. This wine is definitely going to be different from much that you have had in the past, but it is well worth the exploration.


  • Steele Wines "Writer's Block" Counoise, $14 - $16.
    (This wine is about 10% Syrah & Grenache, typical Rhône partners.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    In the glass a clear garnet color is present, similar to the color of the average Pinot Noir. On the nose, bright fruit aromas are what first hits you. Scents of ripe cherry, raspberry, plum, cinnamon and baking spice with a hint of toasty oak. On the palate the wine is silky and round with a substantial mouthfeel. The flavors are pretty high in intensity and quite fruit forward with juicy red cherries, raspberry, currant, baking spices, and oak. The wine ends off nicely with a roasted nuttiness on the end of the finish. It is beautifully drawn out with a great complexity and interesting aftertaste. The wine is well balanced and really enjoyable; especially for this price.

    The aromatics abound on this wine. Notes of juniper, jasmine, and lilacs on first sniff. Raspberries dominate the fruit profile, nose, and palate. A lighter bodied mouthfeel and lighter tannins make it stand-alone refreshing, but I can see why this is predominately a blending grape. Another well-crafted wine. (87 pts.)

    Colors of deep ruby-garnet radiate when spinning the wine around your glass emitting bright aromatics of cherries, raspberries, and light cinnamon. With the first sip, the medium body of this wine delicately dances across the palate with bright mineral sensation mingled with raspberries and blackberries. At the mid-palate a distinct nuttiness permeates your mouth with the berries becoming slightly more intense and as the flavor profile finishes a nice spiciness of cinnamon and light red pepper prevail.

    In the glass the wine was a fairly light ruby color. The nose was nicely aromatic with briary, brambly raspberry and blackberry fruit fruits with some black cherry and leather. On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acid and fairly low tannins. There were flavors of black cherry and blackberry fruit with some charcoal, smoke, baking chocolate and cola. There was a bit of wild strawberry and spicy black pepper, but overall, the flavor profile on this wine was a bit darker than the French version, though it still had a wild, berryish kind of appeal. I found this version much more deep and interesting [than the Domaine Monpertuis] and felt that it definitely was worth the extra $5.

    The best wine you’ve never tasted: It’s called “Counoise” (coon-wahw) and is used to add pepper and acidity to Rhone wines, including Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Ace winemaker Jed Steele releases it under his Writer’s Block label.

    The wine -- from Lake County, north of Napa -- inside the bottle is just as interesting, a medium-to full-bodied aromatic red wine, with soft tannins and notes of toast, cinnamon and cherries.


For a Splurge

There are, by our best count, 17 Counoises over our price limit, and so qualifying as "splurge" wines. Each is scarce—many apparently available only from the winery, and sometimes not even that unless you belong to the winery's "club"—and virtually all with some limited but strong praise from reviewers.

We think it ridiculous to try to make a single recommendation under those circumstances. For your convenience in looking, we do include this list; the links are each to a Google search on that wine. The list is in approximate increasing-cost order.



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