This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Friday, Dec. 21, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20071221.php.
Who knows Counoise?
This offbeat Southern Rhone grape variety (pronounced "Coon-wahz") is usually an anonymous player in blends; but - even as an assiduous seeker of unusual varieties and member in good standing of the Wine Century Club, I had never tasted it in solo varietal status except in components tastings from barrels in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
Thanks to this affordable offering from Domaine Monpertuis, a Vin de Pays du Gard made across the Rhône from Avignon, I've now added Counoise to my "life list."
One of the 13 grapes permitted in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (but not one of the more important of that squadron), Counoise is also found in the Languedoc and, as here, at least occasionally throughout the Southern Rhone. Jancis Robinson, in her handy pocket-size Guide to Wine Grapes, calls it "one of the more rarefied ingredients in red Chateauneuf-du-Pape," its contributions to the blend being a peppery flavor and high acidity.
She couldn't have done a better job of describing this simple wine from Domaine Monpertuis: 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. Or building up your life list of grapes tasted.
Domaine Monpertuis 2004 "Vignoble de la Ramière" Vin de Pays du Gard "Cuvée Counoise" ($10.99)
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. U.S. importer: Rosenthal Wine Merchant, NYC. (Dec. 15, 2007)
FOOD MATCH: Its acidic structure and peppery, earthy character make it a natural with grilled steak; it worked just about as well with leftover dry-aged rare filet mignon shredded and served in a tongue-in-cheek rendition of "scattered, smothered and covered" hash browns.
VALUE: Whether it's to add an offbeat grape to your life list or simply to enjoy a rustic, earthy, Old World red with your steak dinner, it's hard to beat this price.
WHEN TO DRINK: I don't have enough experience with Counoise to support a detailed opinion, but based on its structure and tannins and its presence in the Rhone blend, I'm satisfied that it would keep for several years; whether it would evolve into anything interesting with longer cellar time is a more difficult call.
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