France's southern Rhone is on a roll with a string of outstanding vintages going back to 2003. The most famous wine of the region is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It fetches a well-deserved, premium price, but many other less expensive reds from the Cotes du Rhone offer top quality as well. The wines in our tasting were a blend of four grapes: grenache, syrah, mouvedre and cinsault. That fruit forward combo makes for the perfect transition red as we segue into spring. Given the consistent quality over the past several years, it is not surprising that the three favorites were from three different vintages. Here are the panel's top picks:
2007 Domaine Paul Autard Cotes du Rhone, $11.99
Sourced from vineyards near the walled city of Avignon, home to the French popes, this nicely priced wine shows the exceptional quality of the 2007 vintage. Lithe and lovely fruit aromas entice on the nose, along with cherry and berry that's backed by soft herb. In the mouth, juicy dark cherry and currant flavors caress the palate, playing against light notes of earth, meat and spice. Smooth tannins and just the right hit of acidity come through on the long, fruity finish.
2005 Ogier Vacqueyras, Les Truffiers, $13.99
Ogier Caves des Papes boasts the oldest cellars in Chateauneuf and they make some of the region's finest wines. After Gigondas, Vacqueyras was the second Cotes du Rhone village to be given its own appellation. Ogier's Les Truffiers is a nicely concentrated wine with appealing aromas of raspberry and ripe strawberry. Its silky texture is wrapped around fine grained tannins, while flavors of blackberry, plum, licorice, vanilla, smoke, mineral and coffee all vie for attention. An exceptional value.
2006 Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone, $11.99
The Perrin brothers produce some of the Rhone's most celebrated wines—that heritage comes through in this value-priced blend. At first, it's a bit reserved on the nose, but it opens up nicely to reveal bright fruit, anise and a touch of black pepper. There's a nice richness on the palate and good depth of flavor that includes rich, black cherry and spicy cassis. The creamy fruit finish lingers nicely. It's everything you could want in a transition red.
This week's panel: Eric Anderson, Trinchero Family Estates; Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Kevin Settles, Bardenay; Leslie Young, Boise Co-op Wine Shop.