Some of the best wines in the world are blends of several grape varieties. This is because winemakers have more control over the taste profile of a wine when they use wine grapes as ingredients. The practice of blending is very common even with single varietal wines. For instance, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa may have up to 25% Merlot or Petit Verdot to round out the flavor.
The ‘GSM’ red blend is made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre and it’s a classic from the Côtes du Rhône region. Let’s learn why this wine blend works and who makes it.
The Secret to the Côtes du Rhône Blend: ‘GSM’
There are 19 different grapes used in Côtes du Rhône and Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines. Fortunately, of the 19 varieties, there are really just 3 varieties that define the style. These varieties are Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre – they hold the secret to Côtes du Rhône wine.
Grenache (a.k.a. Garnacha)
By far the lightest of the three wines, Grenache adds candied fruit, raspberry, cinnamon spice and Ruby Red grapefruit flavors. Typically Grenache accounts for the largest portion of a southern Côtes du Rhône wine. Although Grenache is light in color it can add high alcohol levels to the blend, giving GSM wines a long tingly finish.
Buy the Book - Get the Course!
Get the Wine 101 Course ($29 value) FREE with the purchase of Wine Folly: Magnum Edition.Learn More
Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz)
Syrah is famous as the grape of the northern Rhône region (for the well-known regions of Hermitage and Côte Rotie). Syrah adds the darker fruit flavors of blueberry, plum and even black olive to the Côtes du Rhône blend. Syrah can be very savory tasting, often imparting that classic “bacon fat” aroma that people note on the wines from the Rhône. The interesting thing about blending Syrah is that it adds a lot of up-front flavor and boldness but not a lot of aftertaste. For the finish, we call upon Mourvèdre…
Mourvèdre (a.k.a. Monastrell)
If you ever want to try a single variety Mourvèdre (and you should, they’re delicious), look for French Bandol or a Spanish Monastrell. Mourvèdre itself is a deeply rich dark wine, similar to Syrah, but with a more persistent finish. The grape is used somewhat sparingly in Côtes du Rhône to add tannin structure (read: bitterness) and floral aromas.
Where can I find GSM blends?
France isn’t the only place making GSM ‘Rhône blend’ wines. You can find them in California (particularly Paso Robles), South Australia and even Spain.
- South Australia
- Australia has recently undergone many changes in how they produce wine. You’ll find that several quality producers in Barossa Valley including Massena, John Duval (formerly of Penfold’s) and Torbreck have pulled back a lot from the overly ripe flavor that many note as the “critter wine” flavor. The GSM blends often use the name “Mataro” instead of Mourvèdre.
- Paso Robles, CA
- Paso Robles got its start in Côtes du Rhône-style wines with a single winery/nursery called Tablas Creek. They imported vines directly from a partner winery in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape area called Chateau de Beaucastel. This little nursery has single-handedly provided some of the highest rated vines for Syrah and Mourvèdre in the United States. While Tablas Creek wines themselves are not super opulent, the region is known for producing very big bold wines.
- Columbia Valley, Washington
- Because of the extreme temperature shift of a high dessert climate, the GSM wines of Washington have a lot more acidity than their Southern brethren in Paso. There are several hundred producers making great GSM blends but in such small quantities that many do not leave the state.
- Priorat, Spain
- In Priorat, the red blend is a little different. It still uses Garnacha as a base but then uses Mazuelo (a.k.a. Carignan) and usually some Merlot and Syrah. These wines will have the same candied note as a Côtes du Rhône but often with a little more smoky complexity from the moderate tannin in the Merlot that grows on schist-rock soils.
Recommended Drinking Homework
These wines are all under $50, and most below $30, and they really communicate what a GSM is all about. If you click the pictures, it takes you to the specific wine on wine.com – Rhône Blend section
Learn More about the Côtes du Rhône Region
Discover all the appellations within the Rhône and gain a sense of perspective looking at a map of the entire area.