WineKnow Tasting #4: GSM – The Southern Rhone & Beyond

We hosted our fourth “WineKnow” tasting event at our house in Laguna Beach last Saturday. About 35 people joined us on a beautiful evening! (We charge $35 per person and that just covers 10 wines X 3 bottles each + some money for groceries (we make homemade pizzas and gougeres and always have lots of cheeses and cold cuts available).

While the overarching goal was to have fun, get a bit drunk and enjoy conversations with friends old and new, there were two educational goals:

1) To understand why winemakers blend different grapes, such as the “GSM” blend pioneered in France’s southern Rhone Valley, and

2) To understand the price/quality hierarchy in the southern Rhone Valley

One-third of the way through the tasting, and it’s all smiles already!

In order to understand why the “GSM” blend works, we started by tasting three, single-variety wines. A “G” (Grenache = Garnacha) from Spain; an “S” (Syrah = Shiraz) from the Northern Rhone and an “M” (Mourvedre = Monastrell = Mataro) from Spain.

The Grenache (usually 60%+ of Southern Rhone red blends) delivers plush, red fruit. The Syrah darkens the blend and adds blackberries, a certain meatiness/smokiness/pepper and tannins. The Mourvedre (usually the smallest % of the three) is extremely dark and tannic. Together, the three grapes deliver a balanced wine that tastes complex and can age extremely well. I was hoping to create my own GSM by pouring these three wines together but all the bottles were empty!

10 “Curriculum” wines + 3 “Guest” wines

Next, we learned about the Rhone wine quality pyramid. Cotes du Rhone –> Cotes du Rhone Villages –> Cotes du Rhone Crus –> Chateauneuf du Papes/Gigondas/Vacqueyras. We tasted an easy and delicious Cotes du Rhone from E. Guigal at an excellent price (US$11 at Costco!). Next, we jumped up the pyramid a few levels to an E. Guigal Chateauneuf du Papes from a not great year (2013). But it still tasted great! (A reminder that good winemakers can produce good wines even in “bad” vintages.) Finally, we tasted a Gigondas from Chateau St. Cosme.

Preaching to the Choir

We finished the evening with three GSMs from abroad: two from the Barossa Valley in Australia and one from Paso Robles in the USA. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to take these last three out of the wine fridge, so they were too cold to enjoy fully. That said, everyone was pretty lit at that stage so no one minded.

One of our first-timers to these WineKnow events told me “This is the best wine-tasting I’ve ever done! I can’t believe how much I’ve learned.” Stop it! I’m blushing.

Lovely Ladies…but wait, is that WATER?

I’ll post more of my detailed notes for this tasting later, as well as the specific list of wines we tasted. WineKnow #5 is either going to be “The Killer B’s of Italy” (Barolo + Brunello) or “The Wild Wines of Portugal.”

Richard Bruno Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

We recently visted Paso Robles for the first time. Mostly we drank GSM blends. We didn’t even visit the eastern AVAs (Paso has got something like 11 of them!) where most of the Cabernet Sauvignon is produced.

*** My rating and review on


“My favorite red so far.

Blackberry and boysenberry aromas burst from the bottle when I popped the cork. (Clearly there’s no problem achieving full ripeness in Paso Robles!) This is a lighter (in body and tannins) and brighter (acidity) version of what I think of as the typical USA Cabernet Sauvignon. Besides the lovely plush black fruit, there are pleasant cedar/cola and roasted spice flavors too.

I think this is a brilliant wine that tastes great NOW. I get really tired of ‘monumental’ Napa Cabs and the subtlety of Bordeaux Cab blends is sometimes lost on me. Of all the reds from my first Naked Wines shipment, this is the one that has made the biggest impact. I can’t imagine it’s easy to rely on other people for grapes (winemakers are notorious micro-managers), but this guy certainly knows what he’s doing.

That said, I can envision a lot of people trying to figure out what to think of this wine. It’s a lot fruitier and a lot less ‘powerful’ than your average $80+ Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, the ripeness, acidity and flavors remind me more of a Zinfandel! Here, however, the tannins are virtually undetectable (smooth) until the finish, when a (I find pleasant) astringency kicks in to prolong the flavors.

I note a number of reviews complaining of ‘bitterness’ which is both correct and open to interpretation. 

Nice work. “