A little France vs. California match-up for the weekend, for no good reason other than that the wines were in our tasting room, they were good, and writing about them seemed like the thing to do. So nice to have one's purpose in life be so clear, right?

From California, the 2006 Clos LaChance Estate Grenache ($30) has a striking scent of violets and wild berries—really intense aromatics that give way to juicy blackberry fruit and a little black pepper on the finish.

Then, heading down the coast, there's the 2007 Jorian Hill BEEspoke ($45), an oddball name for a potent and stylishly made 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah from a newish winery in the Santa Ynez Valley. It suggested smoky purple berries with a hint of wild game in the nose, then ripe, dense, berry-driven fruit with what I wrote down as a "lasting boowangy end." I have no idea what the heck I meant, though it still seems like the right thing to have written.(NB, the wine is not shown on the website, but I imagine if you called up they'd tell you how to find it.)

From France, that other country, I came across two affordable and impressive southern French reds. The 2007 Domaine de Cascavel In Fine Rouge ($14), a blend of 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah from the Côtes du Ventoux, has the classic wild herb scent of garrigue, with blackberry and cocoa notes and a juicy but firm texture.

Then, also from the Côtes du Ventoux, I was impressed by the 2007 Mas du Fadan Rouge ($13), black-purple in hue, with dusty pepper and floral notes, and a fleshy, low-acid structure that somehow still held together all of its dark, plummy fruit. It comes from a small vineyard
naturally fertilized by goats, and the property's name, fadan, means someone who has been touched by the fairies or lost their mind. Happens to me all the time.