Have I mentioned that I love this job? Last week, I was invited to participate in a tasting of six reds made from Rhone grapes. It marked the launch of the "beta version" of Brixr, a pretty cool concept from the folks at Crushpad.

The gist of this new enterprise is about helping people at each end of the wine-distribution pipeline, leaving out the wholesale and retail entities. I completely get that there are some small wineries that at this stage of the economy probably need such a system to survive. But if -- and only if -- the focus is hooking consumers up with wines they otherwise would not be able to get, good on ya, Brixr. If you're talking wines such as Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel, which is readily available in the Twin Cities and was in last week's tasting, then all Brixr is doing is becoming the new middle man. I do like the notion of people getting to sample teeny-tiny bottles of several wines to see what they like enough to buy. Anyway, on the wines. Brixr sent a few dozen writers, sommeliers and bloggers six 50-ml bottles (1.7 ounces) for us to sample while wine savants Raj Parr and Christie Dufault of RN74 restaursant in San Francisco discussed them. It was entertaining and edifying, and is available for your perusal here. and more info on the enterprise here. The Tablas Creek was the boldest (and ripest) of the bunch, up to that winery's usual high standards. But the Feraud-Brunel Cotes du Rhone Village 2007 was a rather large itself for a French wine, and a great value at $20. And the Alberic Bouvet Crozes Hermitage 2006 had some stout fig and chocolate flavors to go with some serious tannins. I also liked the La Pialade Cotes du Rhone 2006, a soft-pinot-like offering, and the Font-Sane Gigondas 2007, a spicy, gamy gem.

But the revelation -- and perhaps the most "French"-tasting wine of all -- was a Sonoma Coast syrah from a little winery called Arnot-Roberts. Grown at the Clary Ranch, which must be just about the coolest spot in that chilly appellation, the grapes were picked on Nov. 3, and yet the wine came in at just 11.5-percent alcohol (!). Aromatic as all get-out, it's a briny (green olive), tobacco-y wine that drinks a lot better than that probably sounds.

I ordered two bottles from Brixr, and hope that it wasn't just a passing fancy. Passing a half-hour one late afternoon this way certainly struck my fancy.