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.”

2016 Belleruche Cotes du Rhone Rose by M. Chapoutier

I love French rose. Light pink or salmon-colored, slightly savory from the limited red grape skin contact, utterly refreshing.

I love the Southern Rhone (Chateauneuf du Papes, Gigondas, Vacqueyras etc.)

I trust anything made by Michael Chapoutier.

This Cote du Rhone rose hits all three!

My wife found this bottle at World Markets for something like $6! As you can see, it got destroyed over a lunch of beet salad.

WineKnow Facts:

  • Rose wines are NOT normally a blend of white and red wines.
  • In fact, they are almost always made from exclusively red grapes!
  • Confused? Keep in mind that almost all grapes have white/clear juice.
  • The difference with rose wines (and red wines) is that grape skin contact is kept limited. So you get a bit of red and a bit of tannins but with the freshness and acidity of a good white!
  • Rose is hugely popular globally. And it comes in all sorts of colors. However, I can’t stand the bright red ones that smell like strawberry Kool-Aid.
  • No, given me roses from the South of France, Cote du Rhones or Provence! There the wines are usually very pale pink or salmon-colored, with light red fruit and a certain savoriness that pairs perfectly with salads, fish, shellfish.
  • Since this is a Cote du Rhone, the grapes that went into this wine are almost certainly Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and a bit of Mourvedre.
  • But rose can really be made with any red grapes!