It’s a cast of 13 – grapes that is, permissible in the drama that is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. To make whites, there are five varieties, and of the eight players allowed produce red wine, one of the rarest is Counoise (koon-WAHZ). There are however plenty of Chateauneuf-du-Papes that don’t use even a drop of Counoise – it’s late ripening and shy bearing, and cultivated only spottily.
So if even just the inclusion of some Counoise in a CdP is the cause for a little smile, then a pure varietal Counoise bottling warrants a full chorus of “bravos”. Only a few growers have any Counoise at all, and the ones who do, rarely have much; and because it’s not easy to grow there’s little incentive for anyone to plant more of it.
Domaine Monpertuis, though an exception to the rule, only became one after recently acquiring a parcel of land heavily planted to this rare grape. The Chateauneuf-du-Pape regulations to not allow for the production of a varietal Counoise under the CdP A.O.C., so the (at least theoretically) simpler Vin de Pays (du Gard in this case) classification appears on this wine’s marquee.
So what’s Counoise all about? The usual detailed notes are written out below as usual, and this is the first pure Counoise I can ever recall drinking anyway, but if this wine typifies the variety, and my instincts tell me that it does, I’d thumbnail sketch it 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. The menu, in keeping with the wine, was Provencal: Black olive tapenade toasts, and then a main course of chunks of swordfish stewed in a sauce of tomato, white wine, thyme, oregano, and bay leaf, with a melange of potato and haricot verts on the side.
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.