Emphasizing the G for grenache, these wines tend to emphasize bright red-fruit flavors and are low in harsh tannins, providing wide appeal.
AMONG THE MOST fascinating and gratifying developments in Washington wine in the past decade is the rise of Rhône red varieties.
The biggest benefit of this increased interest is a blend called GSM, an acronym for the three grapes involved: grenache, mourvèdre and syrah. These wines tend to emphasize bright red-fruit flavors and are low in harsh tannins, providing wide appeal.
In a sea of red blends made in Washington, GSM blends might just be the best and most interesting. When given a choice between a Bordeaux-style blend (which emphasizes cabernet or merlot) or a GSM, I’ll most likely reach for the latter.
Three GSM blends to try
Here are three GSM-style blends worth seeking out from Washington wineries. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant, or buy directly from the wineries.
Tertulia Cellars 2013 Rivière Galets Estate Vineyard, The Great SchisM Reserve GSM, Walla Walla Valley, $45: This reveals savory notes of smoky herbs, hickory smoked bacon and tapenade. This grenache-heavy blend offers plenty of red fruit, great acidity and hints of black licorice with mild tannins on the finish.
DeLille Cellars 2015 Métier, Columbia Valley, $38: Savory notes of sage, smoke and ripe plum give way to ripe flavors of blackberry, smoked meats, kalamata olives, dense cherry, rosemary and smooth tannins, with a long finish of Baker’s chocolate and lean purple fruit.
Co Dinn Cellars, 2015 Lonesome Spring Ranch GSM, Yakima Valley, $45: Bright cherry, plum sauce, savory herbs, hint of toast. Bold flavors highlight high-toned plum, cherry and red currants. Opulent tannins back the velvety mouth feel, with notes of cracked white pepper on the finish.
These blends originate in the Southern Rhône Valley of France, particularly around the city of Avignon, and particularly the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is the model for GSM blends.
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This area of France is known for its warm weather and poor soils, which makes it sound an awful lot like the Columbia Valley in Eastern Washington.
The key to GSM blends is in the first letter: Grenache. This big, juicy, flavorful grape has been part of Washington viticulture for more than a half-century. It’s great as a stand-alone wine and particularly good as a rosé. Its best use might be in these blends, where it elevates syrah and mourvèdre, two very big, flavorful grapes. The only barrier is that not a lot is grown in Washington: Only 1,400 tons were harvested last fall, compared with 62,000 tons of cab.
Washington grows plenty of syrah, which is expertly used to enhance cab-based blends. Mourvèdre is slightly more rare than grenache.
GSM blends are so good in Washington, they could well develop into a signature wine in the state, thanks to full-bodied, seductive flavors that will find broad appeal with all consumers. As a bonus, Washington versions sell for about half the price of comparable-quality Châteauneuf-du-Papes from France.