What, Exactly, Is a GSM Wine?
Blends abound, but one red is so popular it has its own shorthand: GSM. The letters stand for three grapes that hail from the valleys of the Rhône River—Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre—which altogether make a blend that’s today replicated worldwide.
But what makes a GSM different from other red blends? We queried wine professionals for the answer and why they love this classic Rhône-style offering.
What Does “GSM” Mean?
While the term “GSM” is attributed to Australian winemakers, the blend has older origins. Grenache (Garnacha) and Mourvèdre (Monastrell) appear to hail from Spain genetically, but the GSM triad grew to fame together along the Rhône River in southern France. There, they thrived in the steep hills of Côtes du Rhône thanks to the rocky boulders and Mediterranean sun of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. All three varietals appeared in the region by the end of the 18th century.
Winemakers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape created the French appellation system in 1936, cementing rules around the red blend. Today, 19 grape varieties are allowed in GSM, but at least 70% of the wine has to be from its three namesake varietals. Syrah is favored in the northern stretches of the Rhône, while Grenache and Mourvèdre lead more in the south.
Each member of the classic trio contributes different notes and styles. Generally speaking, Grenache delivers delicate red-fruit notes, while Syrah brings black fruits, structure and spice. Full-bodied Mourvèdre grounds the blend with plum and savory notes.
Steve Peck, vice president of winemaking at J. Lohr in California describes the harmony of this classic blend: “The star in this trio is most often Grenache which brings high-toned strawberry notes,” he says. “Syrah plays the mid-range–dark in color, often with white pepper notes. Mourvèdre plays the bass note bringing savage blue fruit aromas and tannic structure.”
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Outside France, Where Do GSM Wines Thrive?
Southern France may be the blend’s traditional home, but GSM has found success worldwide. Winemakers told us that GSM does best when grown in vineyards with steep inclines, low rainfall, minerally and alluvial soils and hot summers. Hospitable for all three? Leading Syrah hubs including Spain, Argentina, South Australia, South Africa and parts of the United States.
In America, Paso Robles has proved a worthy landscape for Rhône varieties. The area’s 11 districts have intense slopes and canyons to the west and warmer, gentler terraces to the east. Robert Haas saw southern France in these rugged California hills’ limestone soils. In 1989, his Tablas Creek Winery planted direct cuttings from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and created a vineyard nursery for wineries around the country. Today, this “Rhone Zone” in California’s largest AVA is filled with Rhone varietal vineyards.
To the north, Washington state has rapidly grown its Rhône reputation over the last 15 years. East of the state’s stereotypically soggy coast, the Columbia Basin offers the extremes these varietals need. Meanwhile, in Oregon, the Rocks District of Milton Freewater, a sub-AVA in Walla Walla, even has a twist-your-ankle rocky top deposited along the fork of the Walla Walla River that mimics Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
“The Rocks District has big savory, velvety Syrahs unique to all of the West Coast,” says Sean Boyd, winemaker and owner of Rotie Cellars.
According to Boyd, AVAs in the region—like Snipes Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills, Rocky Reach and Columbia Gorge—all have the soils, steep relief and high heat that Grenache loves. “Then we have Mourvèdre, which is probably the favorite wine of the devil, because you want it hotter than hell and on steep cliffs without rainfall.”
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What’s Behind the Enduring Appeal of GSM?
A GSM red blend is an easy entry point into bold reds, with the three varietals smoothing and enhancing a wide range of notes. Timing plays a role in its easy-drinking nature: Syrah and Grenache both ripen in the middle of harvest season, followed by Mourvèdre. “The timeframe is perfect for producing [a balanced blend],” says Boyd.
Each grape can hold its own as a single-varietal, so winemakers often find it easier to play with percentages and define their own personal style. “Much like a chef, making blends is like using different ingredients,” says Boyd. “Red-fruit, balanced Grenache meets savory Syrah followed by brambleberry, gamey Mourvèdre,” he muses. “Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre play with each other so well.”
Others cite the blend’s approachability as a main selling point. “GSM always hooks me on three things: earthiness, nuance and romance,” says Patricia Butterfield, owner of Winescape Winery in Spokane, Washington. “There is something about the way that blend comes together and plays to the strengths of each varietal.”
Beyond the technical intrigue, GSM also benefits from the prestige and romance of the famous crus of France.
“It’s easy to slip right down the rabbit hole and imagine yourself, and perhaps a significant other, in France,” says Butterfield. “The memory I keep on autopilot is the train ride between Paris and Avignon, with a glass of GSM in hand. A good wine on a good day.”
GSMs Worth Your Attention
Domaine Chante Cigale 2020 Vieilles Vignes Red (Châteauneuf-du-Pape)
Profuse deep blackberry aromas, along with cassis, black olives and wild mint sit atop fresh potting soil. The palate is coated with fine youthful tannins, contributing dark and elegant bitter contrast to its fruit. This wine will display tremendous integration with bottle aging through 2035+. 96 Points — Anna-Christina Cabrales
Domaine Santa Duc 2020 Habemus Papam Red (Châteauneuf-du-Pape)
A pure nose exuding perfectly ripe red fruit, enveloped by black plum, violet and green peppercorn. The palate is immediately greeted with a rush of acidity, rolling in a wave of black cherry, thyme stem, violets, iris, clove and black tea. Though currently a bit wound, it should shine with impressive nuances with additional time in bottle. Undeniably irresistible. Editor’s Choice. 95 Points — A.C.
Lindquist Family 2021 G-S-M (Central Coast)
This blend of 47% Grenache, 28% Syrah and 25% Mourvèdre is impressive, from longtime Rhône master Bob Lindquist. Fresh aromas of cherry, raspberry and baking spice lead into a tightly wound palate whose juicy red fruits are balanced by a rocky minerality and peppery spices. Easy to drink but complex enough to ponder as well. Editor’s Choice. 95 Points — Matt Kettmann
M. Chapoutier 2019 La Bernardine Red (Châteauneuf-du-Pape)
A bold and opulent profile of black and blue fruits, cherries, plum, flint and garrigue sits with dormant energy, wanting to explode in the glass. Its drying tannins are balanced by ample refreshing acidity, cellar through 2030+ before revisiting should result in remarkable integration and greater complexity. 94 Points — A.C.
André Brunel 2020 Cuvée Réservée Red (Châteauneuf-du-Pape)
Alluring aromas of fresh Morello cherries macerated with Gala apple, cranberry and rose petals linger gently in the glass, immediately demonstrating balance. The palate is refreshed by mouthwatering acidity, which ushers in notes of rhubarb and black cherry in the midpalate, and black peppercorn through the finish. 94 Points — A.C.
The Feminist Party 2021 G-S-M (Santa Barbara County)
Jubilant aromas of raspberry, roasted cherry, oregano and blistered tomato show on the nose of this Rhône blend. There’s plenty of garrigue to the palate, giving earthy depth to the sharp red currant and spicy black-pepper flavors. 93 Points — M.K.
Pierre Amadieu 2019 Domaine Grand Romane Red (Gigondas)
This is a powerful blend of 65% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah.The wine is so lively upon opening that it will surely pique curiosity amongst enthusiasts. An intense core of blackberries, sunbaked plums and touch of wild mint coats the palate. Natural high-altitude acidity helps draw a long, dark-fruited finish, with salinity, fine gritty tannins and clove. 93 Points — A.C.
Total Wine & More
Clos du Mont-Olivet 2020 Cuvée Unique Red (Châteauneuf-du-Pape)
Aromas of freshly squeezed cherries tossed in a basket of wild thyme and white peppercorn linger on the nose. The palate reveals a taut weaving of black cherries, vanilla, thyme and fresh-tossed earth, which increases in juiciness with time in the glass. 94 Points — A.C.
Calcareous 2021 Très Violet Red (Paso Robles)
Black raspberry, anise and lightly smoked meat aromas work well on the nose for this blend of 46% Mourvèdre, 44% Grenache and 10% Syrah. The palate is thick and heavy but in all the right ways, as the creamy mouthfeel delivers ripe black cherry and cola flavors. 94 Points — M.K.
Château La Nerthe 2019 Cuvée des Cadettes Red (Châteauneuf-du-Pape)
A complete expression from 80-year-old vines in this focused GSM blend. Its purity is reminiscent of a perfect brunch experience, but in a glass. Red and black berry jam with fine barrel spices seduces the nose and palate, and demonstrates its aging potential for years to come. Easily cellar well through 2035. Cellar Selection. 94 Points — A.C.
Kaleidos 2020 Praying Mantis Estate Red (Paso Robles Willow Creek District)
Expertly extracted aromas of blackberry and cassis are spiced by cola and root beer elements on the nose of this blend of 82% Grenache, 12% Mourvèdre and 6% Syrah. The tannins provide a firm architecture to the palate, where the baked fig and berry flavors are cut by loads of nutmeg and other baking spices. 93 Points — M.K.
Andis 2020 ENOR Red (Sierra Foothills)
Immediate aromas of black cherry, black currant, black plum and plum skins, dark chocolate, capsicum and toasted wood waft right out of the glass. The palate of this wine offers a solid dose of acidity, chalk-like tannins and notes of roses, violets, black pepper and olive. It is an engaging, interesting and downright tasty Rhône-style red. Editor’s Choice. 93 Points — Stacy Briscoe
Brecon Estate 2021 Forty Two Red (Paso Robles)
Rich aromas of cassis, violet and lilac are wrapped in ample oak on the nose of this blend. The palate is lush and heavy yet still very satisfying. Creamy tannins cradle ripe yet not-quite-sweet fruit flavors that are leveled by savory meat tones. 93 Points — M.K.
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