Noted for its work in French blends, the peppery red grape is used increasingly around the world.
You may have tasted Counoise without realizing it: The dark-skinned grape most associated with France’s Rhône Valley is one of the 13 varieties allowed in the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Plump and late ripening, it’s known for pepperiness and bright acidity, characteristics that heighten those of its typical blending partners, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.
This is primarily how the grape has been used, but that’s changing. In recent years, winemakers from New Jersey to Australia have embraced Counoise in varietal bottlings as well as blends. These are often light-bodied, spicy wines akin to Cabernet Franc, Gamay or Pinot Noir, typically best enjoyed young. Ahead, read up on three regions where the variety has taken hold.
In just the last few years, Counoise has begun to rear its head in certain areas down under, where avant-garde winemakers incorporate the grape in experimental and small-batch blends. Western Australia’s Larry Cherubino Wines and McLaren Vale’s Yangarra Estate are two that blend it with other Rhône varieties like Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre for an Aussie take on Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In the Barossa Valley, meanwhile, Four Men and a Shed marries it to Carignan in a light, fruity red.
In 1990, Tablas Creek Vineyard, a pioneer of the state’s embrace of Rhône varieties, brought Counoise to Paso Robles and became the first U.S. producer to plant the grape. It’s released occasional varietal bottlings since 2002. Elsewhere, experimental winemakers like Broc Cellars, Sans Liege’s Groundwork label and Benevolent Neglect have also crafted fun yet thoughtful varietal bottlings.
After it made inroads in California, Counoise traveled up the West Coast and settled in the Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), which straddles the border between Washington and Oregon. There, it has added complexity to blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, but has shined increasingly on its own. Look for varietal bottlings from producers like Cana’s Feast or Swick Wines, which uses it to make a pétillant-naturel rosé.
Published: September 13, 2021