Rhône wines lack both the pretense of Bordeaux and the cult-elitist appeal of Burgundy. And, they're just downright delicious.
A few months ago, I was in the middle of another dreary Merlot tasting when it happened: I got a Rhône call. I drifted off from my sample of Cabernet-on-training-wheels and found myself sitting at a sunny cafe on the Place de l'Horloge in Avignon, a glass of good Côtes du Rhône in one hand and a copy of Rabelais in the other. (OK, so I've never really read Rabelais. Just play along - it's a fantasy, remember?)

When daydreams like this become chronic, the only cure is to hop on the first available American flight to Paris. With a TGV station located right in the Charles de Gaulle Airport, taking the high-speed train to the Rhône Valley is a breeze. A rail pass from RailEurope makes it even more convenient. (Check out www.raileurope.com for a list of pass options and train schedules.)

The wedge-nosed TGV pulls out with reassuring French punctuality, and soon the trackside telephone poles are whizzing past in a blur. A little more than three hours later, I arrive at Avignon's fabulous new TGV station, a postmodern statement in glass and concrete shaped like a giant banana. The lovely walled city of Avignon makes a great hub for visiting the Rhône Valley, and is a good hopping-off point for Provence or Languedoc-Roussillon as well.

My first priority on hitting the Rhône is always to scope out some of the more fantastic wines. Here are three well worth discovering.

1999 Delas FrÈres Marquise de la Tourette Hermitage Rouge