Rich Rhône Reds: $16 and Under
Côtes-du-Rhône's Comeback In the past few years, this vast appellation—it contains over 100,000 acres of vineyards—has been the source of some of France's greatest red wine bargains. Mostly blends of Grenache, Syrah and Carignane, they're produced by both ambitious small estates and bigger winemakers known for prestigious bottlings from other areas such as Cornas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Back-to-Back Great Years The terrific 2003 and 2004 vintages, both available now, are a study in contrasts: 2003's summer heat wave made for superripe, opulent reds; 2004's gentler weather produced bright, fresh wines with impeccable balance.
2003 Perrin Réserve Côtes-du-Rhône ($11) This flamboyant red, full of lush boysenberry flavor, comes from the proprietors of the famed Château de Beaucastel, one of the great names in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
2003 Féraud-Brunel Côtes-du-Rhône ($14) Star Châteauneuf- du-Pape producers Laurence Féraud (Domaine du Pégau) and André Brunel's (Domaine Les Cailloux) joint line of affordable bottlings includes this peppery, intense red.
2003 Château Mont-Redon Côtes-du-Rhône ($15) This silky wine is sourced from a 38-acre vineyard on a plateau above the Rhône River; it's loaded with succulent raspberry-liqueur flavor.
2003 Domaine de la Janasse Côtes-du-Rhône ($16) Talented young winemaker Christophe Sabon, whose Cuvée Chaupin is one of the most sought-after wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, created this voluptuous yet structured red from five Rhône varieties—Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignane and Cinsaut. He selected grapes from 50- to 60-year-old vines.
2003 Jean-Luc Colombo Les Forots Côtes-du-Rhône ($16) Colombo is famous for his intense, brooding Cornas reds, and this is a more modestly scaled version. Made from 100 percent Syrah grown in steep northern Rhône vineyards, it's full of blue- and blackberry flavors.
2004 Domaine la Montagnette Côtes-du-Rhône ($13) Montagnette is one of seven estates belonging to Les Vignerons d'Estézargues, an unusual Côtes-du-Rhône co-op. (The estates share a winemaker and winery, but each creates wine under its own label.) A parcel of old-vine Cinsaut purchased in 2004 adds a spicy kick to this meaty, berry-rich red.
2004 Domaine de Périllière Côtes-du-Rhône Villages ($13) This 50-50 blend of Grenache and Syrah is made by another member of the Estézargues co-op as a special cuvée for up-and-coming Rhône importer Patrick Lesec. The vibrant flavors of this wine, fermented in stainless steel tanks, recall crushed wild berries.
2004 Saint Cosme Côtes-du-Rhône ($15) Not too long ago, winemaker Louis Barruol of the legendary Gigondas estate Château de Saint Cosme (which his family has owned since 1490) started a négociant business, called simply Saint Cosme. Barruol buys grapes from top local growers for affordable wines like this black, earthy Syrah.