Among the most exciting developments in Washington wine country in the past decade is the rising interest in red Rhône varieties.
This group includes such grapes as syrah, grenache, mourvedre, cinsault, counoise and a few other varieties. Syrah has developed a keen interest in Washington, becoming our third most-popular red grape and making some of the state’s most interesting reds.
Of particular fascination are the red blends using three of these grapes. Known as “GSM,” the initials stand for the three main grapes: grenache, syrah and mourvedre. The style is modeled after the red wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, an area of the Rhône Valley near the city of Avignon. Among the most famous producers is Château de Beaucastel.
These blends are among the most famous in France, and the versions being crafted in Washington are among the most exciting and fascinating to come out of the hundreds of red blends being made statewide. The resulting wines are jammy with rich, ripe flavors, backed by spice and framed with plump, approachable tannins.
Here are a few examples of GSM blends being made across the great Northwest. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant, or buy directly from the wineries.
Adega Northwest 2015 Weinbau Vineyard Growers Cuvée Miguel Rodriguez GSM, Columbia Valley, $30: Portland sommelier Bradford Cowin has been serious about becoming a winemaker since 2007 when he worked in the cellar at R. Stuart in McMinnville, but it was his time at Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla that got him access to venerable Weinbau Vineyard on Washington’s Wahluke Slope. Cowin uses this GSM blend to pay tribute to vineyard manager Miguel Rodriguez, who has been working at this Sagemoor Farms site since 1979. The coalescence of syrah (40%), grenache (30%) and mourvedre offers aromas of plum jam, black currant syrup and cherry juice that are joined by cured meat and black pepper. The pleasing structure of pliable tannins amid a long stream of purple fruit flavors comes with savory black olive notes and a juicy finish.
Cloudlift Cellars 2013 Zephyr GSM, Columbia Valley, $34: Tom Stangeland lives on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, makes his wine near Georgetown and brings his fruit from east of the Cascades. His blend of Rhône varieties starts with syrah (42%), and he swirls in Grenache (20%) as well as mourvedre. The nose of dried oregano, Rainier cherry, tar and vanilla gives way to flavors of black cherry, juicy blueberry and marionberry. Touches of cola, black olive and toast are not lost within the balanced mouthfeel.
Colter’s Creek Winery 2014 Arrow Rim Red GSM, Idaho, $25: Washington State University grad Melissa Sanborn blends estate grapes from her estate in the Lewis-Clark Valley with Snake River Valley fruit off Skyline, Sawtooth and Williamson for this GSM-style bottling that also includes viognier. Aromatics offer nuances of marionberry, blueberry dark toast and citrus peel, which leads to a nicely balanced, fruit-driven drink of dusty blueberry.
Tenet Wines 2014 GSM, Columbia Valley, $70: Tenet is Ste. Michelle’s palindrome-coined collaboration with renowned Rhône Valley vintners Michel Gassier and Philippe Cambie. Their second vintage in Washington state with Chateau Ste. Michelle head winemaker Bob Bertheau results in this delicious and mildly hedonistic GSM-style blend of grenache (43%), syrah (32%) and mourvedre aged 13 months in mostly neutral French oak barrels. Its nose of marionberry taffy, huckleberry, red currant, Western serviceberries and dark chocolate carries on through to the palate.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.