What I know about the Counoise (pronounced Coon-WAH) grape could be put on the head of a pin – but all the mystery just makes me want to root around and find out why this grape took two years to get approved for production in the U.S. and why France’s best known region regularly uses it in blends.

The Counoise, it turns out, is an obscure grape that’s only found U.S. presence in the last couple of decades. Even the Wall Street Journal joked about Counoise’s obscurity in a recent article, yet the grape is a key component of many Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, and comprises as much as 10 percent of some of the French wine blends.

Some of the complexities of the Counoise come from the fact that it is a blending component allowed in most of the South of France appellations but it is almost never used on its own. It’s a rich, garnet color, and offers a spicy character, with flavors of anise, strawberries, and blueberries, good acids and soft tannins.

The story goes that Counoise was introduced into Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Spain by a papal officer, who offered it France’s pope in the 14th century. Eventually, it was given a prominent place in the wines of the celebrated Château la Nerthe estate of Commandant Ducos in the late 19th century.

Ducos, as it turns out, was a student of the characteristics of various grape varietals, and played a key role in the development of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region. When the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée laws regulating (among other things) each region’s permitted grape varietals were passed in the 1930s, the varietals planted by Ducos (including Counoise) comprised 11 of the 13 allowed Châteauneuf-du-Pape varieties.

The varietal saw a similar rebirth at Château de Beaucastel when, in the mid 1900s, Jacques Perrin increased the planting of Counoise as a complement for Syrah. Its moderate alcohol and tannins, combined with relatively high acidity, good fruit and aromatics, balance Syrah’s characteristic intense spice, strong tannins, and high alcohol.

Now Counoise can also be found in the U.S. and in Colorado. Tablas Creek Vineyard ( in the California’s Paso Robles wine region launched a Counoise presence. In 1990, Tablas Creek owners imported some Counoise cuttings from Château de Beaucastel and the winery started planting the varietal in the Paso Robles Hills. Since 1999, Counoise usually comprises 5-10% of Tablas Creek’s Esprit de Beaucastel.

Divino Wine & Spirits at 1240 S. Broadway offers a Cuvée Counoise, from France’s Rhone Valley for $12.99 a bottle. The vineyard, called Vignoble de la Ramière, is planted with Counoise and Grenache. This particular wine happens to be a 100 percent Counoise cuvée. It’s truly a deep garnet-red color, with a whisper of pepper and black fruits. On the palate, it’s spicy and mouth filling with just enough acidity as an afterthought.

The truth is that I still don’t know a heck of a lot about this grape or what its ultimate importance is within the trajectory of a grape’s rise from obscurity. I do know that, after tasting the Cuvée Counoise (paired with a pork loin roast), it’s a steal for the price.

And maybe that’s enough to know about the Counoise grape – at least for now.

Word o’ the Week

Sablet (sa BLAY) – Sablet is a village at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail in the Cotes du Rhone wine region of France. About 30 miles outside of Avignon, Sablet is known for producing the Counoise grape.

One Winning Wine Tasting

11th Annual Beaujolais & Beyond Food & Wine Festival

This is a fun event. On November 19, 2009, from 6 to 10 p.m., Mile High Station at 2027 W. Colfax in Denver will host the 2009 Beaujolais & Beyond Food and Wine Festival. Open to the public, the Festival features more than 40 different French wines, including George Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2009.

Guests will also enjoy gourmet appetizers, entrees, cheese and desserts from a variety of Colorado’s finest chefs. Call 303.695.7818 for more information.

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