Exploring Southern Cotes du Rhone Blends 

Three appellations, three price points

In the northern part of France's Cotes du Rhone region, the syrah grape is king, but in the south, red blends rule. Grenache typically leads off that blend, but more than a half-dozen other grape varieties can enter into the mix. The result is an alluring red wine that is one of my unabashed favorites. Three different appellations from the southern Rhone (at three very different price points) made the cut this week:

2009 Andre Brunel Cotes du Rhone Villages, Cuvee Sabrine, $13

This grenache, syrah, mourvedre blend is a bit funky at first with its earthy hit of dill on the nose, but it blows off, letting floral berry aromas come through. There's none of that quirkiness on the palate, where supple cherry, berry and plum fruit flavors are matched by bright acidity and velvety tannins. A nice touch of mocha comes through on the finish.

2008 Domaine Paul Autard Chateauneuf-du-Pape, $38

A light spiciness adds color to the round, ripe cherry, vanilla and light coffee aromas in this blend of six different grapes (grenache and syrah take the lead). There's a New World richness to this wine with its silky red fruit flavors and soft oak. The creamy finish is marked by touches of coffee and tobacco.

2007 Perrin & Fils Vacqueyras, Les Christins, $27

From the Perrin family of Chateau Beaucastel fame comes this blend of grenache (80 percent) and syrah. It offers earthy berry and plum fruit aromas backed by fresh ground, dark roast coffee, white pepper and herb. This is a remarkably smooth and elegant wine with seamless cherry and raspberry fruit flavors, in which ripe tannins and a hint of anise come through on the lengthy finish.

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