Counoise is a rare varietal to find as a 100% bottle. It is a dark-skinned grape used primarily for blending, adding a slight peppery note to a wine when combined. It’s one of the Rhône grape varieties allowed in a Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, where some producers will use up to 5% in their blend. Not a lot in the scheme of things. So, often, grape-growers will plant just enough to satisfy this need. But every once in awhile, you’ll come across someone with the patience to grow a few more acres, enough to source out to a vintner crazy enough to turn it into a 100% varietal wine. And patient and crazy they must be: Counoise is one of the, if not the, last grapes picked at the end of harvest; as a single-varietal wine it’s lack of tannins can lend itself to a flat flavor and flabby texture. But The Withers works with vineyard manager Ron Mansfield of Goldbud Farms, who produces some of the most critically acclaimed fruit in the region. Mansfield provides the patience while Tow and team provide the crazy. And guess what? It just works…
About the Wine: The Withers 2015 Counoise is made from 100% Counoise grapes harvested from Goldbud Farms and David Gerard vineyards in the Sierra Foothills’ El Dorado County. The grapes went through an initial cold soak before fermenting in small-lot barrels using all native yeast with 40% whole cluster inclusion. The wine aged in neutral French oak for 18 months.
Flavor Profile: Open the bottle and breathe in the aroma of dark jam and fruit compote, wet soil, chocolate and vegetables. On the pour, you’ve never seen anything look so purple, yet the wine settles into the glass in a royal-purple-kisses-ruby-red color. The Withers 2015 Counoise has initial aromas of — surprisingly — light, bright fruits like fresh red plums and raspberry, along with fresh mint leaves, a light dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder, and a background scent reminiscent of cherry cola. Even on the nose you can sense the strong use of acidity in this, once, seemingly dark wine. Swirl, and the Counoise releases more of a floral sweetness. “The garden is in play.” Pull away from the glass and engage further with the lighter fruits, namely that raspberry and, this time, a hint of strawberry as well.
The palate of The Withers 2015 Counoise is a journey. Start by jumping into a pool of the juices of all the fruits named on the nose (strawberry, raspberry, plum); a quarter of the way the acid kicks in, highlighting the freshness of those fruits and adding a little bit of intrigue to the tongue; then the tannins sneakily fade in, gently coating the tongue.
Hold the wine in your mouth for a bit. Those sneaky tannins, you’ll discover, are actually there the whole time and carry all the other components through to the end. While you’re holding the wine, notice that there’s a secretive darkness to it as well — cassis, currents, prunes are all lingering in the background showcasing, not just a depth of flavor, but the age-ability of this completely unique wine.
The finish is quite comforting as the tannins, as soft as suede, gently coat the tongue, while the acid, which delicately dissipates by this point, leaves just a lingering warmth in the mouth.
Food Pairing: I paired The Withers 2015 Counoise with my second attempt at a seafood paella. While my recipe and execution of the dish wasn’t perfect, the pairing certainly was. What I wanted was something that was bright enough to cut through the heat of all those spices and the meatiness of the sausage, but with enough depth to play with all the herbs and lift up the savory, meaty stock. This wine did just that. And, as I obviously need to keep trying my hand at this recipe, I would absolutely pair this wine with this meal again.
More Info: I received The Withers 2015 Counoise as a sample for review. (Cheers Andrew!) Retail Price: $29. For more information and to purchase wines directly, please visit The Withers website.
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