Some grape varieties work best solo. Pinot noir is one that immediately comes to mind. In most cases, I prefer the layered nuances that blending can achieve. This is especially true with the grapes native to France's Rhone Valley. Syrah thrives in the Northwest, but too often I find varietal bottlings of that grape a little overwhelming. But when blended with grenache, things turn a bit more mellow. Here are three outstanding Northwest interpretations of a classic Rhone style.
2010 aMaurice Cellars Syrah/Grenache, $34
This 72 percent syrah and 28 percent grenache blend offers the most intriguing nose of the three, with a spicy black pepper and red meat component to the sweet cherry and floral fennel aromas. In the mouth, it's big but balanced with creamy bright berry flavors colored by baking spices, anise and soft oak. Silky tannins and crisp cherry come through on the finish.
2010 Gramercy Cellars L'idiot du Village, $47
This syrah-dominant blend (80 percent) includes dollops of mourvedre, grenache and cinsault. That amount of syrah definitely makes for a richly textured wine with earthy fruit aromas reminiscent of a Cote-Rotie. In the mouth, a big burst of red fruit flavor is backed by mocha-laced blackberry and creamy cappuccino. This is an impressive and expensive wine, but it's worth the price.
2011 Maison Bleue Jaja, $21
Syrah leads off in this wine at 43 percent, combining with mourvedre at 35 percent and grenache at 27 percent. The aromas are a complex mix of cherry, raspberry, vanilla, earth and mineral. This is an elegantly structured wine, almost delicate on the palate, where silky red fruit flavors and smooth tannins are perfectly balanced by a food friendly hit of acidity. This wine is delicious alone, but should age beautifully. And at this price, it's something of a bargain.