One of my favorite aspects of working at a winery is being surrounded by people who love learning about wine as much as I do. Every month for our tasting room staff meeting, our Winery Ambassador will host some sort of wine education for the team. In March, he took us through a blind tasting during which I fell in love with a grape rarely seen as a single varietal wine – Counoise!
I was familiar with Counoise from my recent trip to the Southern Rhône Valley last fall. Grown in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, and Tavel, Counoise is a grape typically used in blends and Provençal rosés. The varietal is thought to have originated in the Southern Rhône. Though I have also read that Counoise may have originated in Spain and was brought to the Southern Rhône as a gift for the Pope when the papacy was in Avignon.
Counoise is a salt and pepper grape. One that adds a little something to blends and enhances the flavors and characteristics of other varietals. This varietal tends towards notes of peppery spice, strawberry, energetic floral, and vibrant acidity. All aspects I love in a bottle of wine!
When it comes to red wine, I definitely favor a lighter red. While I have nothing against big, bold reds, I feel lighter reds are so much more nuanced. Lighter reds can still be so complex in their simplicities and it takes a skillful winemaker to allow a naturally lighter red variety to sing on its own.
Needless to say, I absolutely adored the single varietal Counoise we tasted during our staff meeting.
2016 Groundwork Counoise
This Counoise comes from winemaker Curt Schalchlin of Sans Liege and Groundwork Wines. Curt lets the unique environment of each vineyard he works with guide him through the winemaking process. Am I glad he did because the 2016 Groundwork Counoise is unlike any wine I’ve ever tasted before!
The grapes came from a Rancho Arroyo Grande vineyard about an hour south of Paso Robles. For fermentation, 50% were fermented as whole clusters on their native yeasts in open top fermentors with pumpovers. The other 50% of the grapes underwent carbonic maceration by native yeasts in closed tanks. Carbonic maceration is a process in which grapes are left whole, allowing fermentation to occur within each individual grape while in a carbon dioxide rich environment. The whole-berry fermentation is often used in Beaujolais and gives wines a bright and fruity quality.
- Light summer red with a surprising punch
- Similar to a peppery Pinot Noir or Beaujolais/Gamay
- Strawberry or watermelon Jolly Rancher
- Medicinal cherry
- Hibiscus or Jarritos Jamaica soda
- Lingering finish with tantalizing spice
After tasting the 2016 Groundwork Counoise, one thing is for sure. More single varietal Counoise needs to be produced because this grape is meant to shine! I am officially on the hunt.