Some of the best wines in the world are blends. That's certainly true in Bordeaux, where merlot and cabernet come together, happily sharing the bottle with a few other varieties. In France's Cotes du Rhone, grenache takes the lead position. There are other parts of the world where that grape stands alone, and it can be quite nice, but grenache really shines when it is blended with syrah. The combination makes for an easy-drinking, food-friendly red that's a great choice for the transition to fall. It's a wine designed to enhance an occasion, not dominate it. Here are the panel's top picks:
2009 Domaine Coste Chaude Cotes du Rhone, Truffiere, $16.99
The intriguing aromas are bright and lively, leading off with creamy cherry that blends beautifully with earthy notes of smoke, savory olive, orange zest and bay leaf. The wine is ripe and round in the mouth with concentrated flavors of silky plum and cherry liqueur. This is definitely a fruit-forward, crowd-pleasing style of wine.
2010 Domaine Cros De Romet Cotes du Rhone Village, Cairanne, $18.99
A blend of 80 percent grenache and 20 percent syrah, this wine's aromas offer a heady core of dense, dark berry fruit with herb and game accents. The palate is equally dense with supple ripe berry, pepper, bacon and earth, backed by balancing acidity and smooth tannins. It's approachable now, but would definitely benefit from five or more years in the cellar.
2010 Gassier Cercius Cotes du Rhone Vieilles Vignes, $18.99
"Vieille vignes" translates from French as "old vines," and at 80-plus years of age, this blend of 85 percent grenache and 15 percent syrah certainly qualifies. On the nose, you get berry and cassis backed by both fresh-ground coffee and black tea, with touches of game and mineral. Supple plum and boysenberry fruit flavors are colored by herb and pepper-laden spice. Smooth tannins linger nicely on the finish.