If you crave juicy wines with a hint of chewy depth, the initials GSM should be part of your wine vocabulary. GSM stands for Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre, a delectable blend of Rhône valley varieties now starring worldwide.
France's Rhône valley is like two different wine zones crammed into one. In the north, the Syrah variety reigns supreme as the only red grape in famous Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie wines. But in the hotter south, blends are the name of the game, and a whopping 13 different varieties can be included in some wines! In all southern Rhône blends -- including famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, and Côtes-du-Rhône -- the three GSM varieties are major players. Typically, Grenache takes on a leading role, strongly backed up by Syrah and Mourvèdre. Any other varieties making the mix will appear in much smaller amounts.
In GSM blends, winemakers have wicked-good raw ingredients to work with when crafting their recipes. Here's the GSM breakdown:
• Grenache adds bright, red raspberry flavors, and because it's naturally lower in tannin than many other reds, easy-going drinkability is always part of the package.
• Syrah -- called Shiraz in Australia and South Africa -- adds spiciness and darker, blackberry-type flavors, plus the ability to gracefully age. It can also lend beguiling scents of smoke and leather.
• Mourvèdre -- sometimes known as Mataro -– is intense and meaty. It adds even more aging ability, plus an inky, dark color.
Close to home
In the United States, the big-league popularity of GSM varieties is largely due to the efforts of a group of daring California winemakers known as the Rhône Rangers. With a belief that California's climate has much in common with the Rhône, this cadre of wine-making rebels turned their backs on ever-popular staples such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, focusing instead on Rhône mainstays. These days, the Rhône Rangers' influence extends throughout the entire west coast, including Oregon and Washington. But many of the top wines are found in California's Central Coast, including areas such as Paso Robles and Santa Barbara.
If you've ever gotten even a whiff of Aussie wine, chances are you know all about the down-under success of Shiraz. But Grenache and Mourvèdre feel right at home in Oz, as well. In addition to wines labeled GSM, keep an eye out for SGM's and SG's -- wines in which Shiraz claims the lion's share of the blend, rather than Grenache. For fresh, exciting Aussie-Rhône takes, pay particular attention to bottles hailing from Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.
The ample warmth and sun of South Africa perfectly suits heat-loving Rhône grapes. Although the region is steeped in centuries of tradition dating back to the 1600s, South African winemakers have recently adopted Rhône varieties as their very own. As in other New World areas, you're likely to see the classic GSM triumvirate alongside an infinite number of variations on the theme. Don't shy away -- South African mixes featuring any of the Rhône varieties can be meltingly soft and easy to love.