If you are a casual wine drinker you may have noticed wines on restaurant menus or wines on the shelves at your local store that have the letters “GSM” on them. Though most producers will list the grape varietals on the bottle, they may not always be particularly visible. If you’ve ever wondered what GSM stood for, now is a great time to learn…and help prepare for our upcoming virtual tasting experience: It’s Okay to Drink a Rhône.

Learn more firsthand from two fantastic GSM producers—Sin Banderas and ZANOLI Wines—at our Virtual Tasting Experience on Thursday, May 28th at 6pm PST. Join here and pre-order our featured wines to sip along with us!

Origins of GSM

Besides filling in as a playful pun (especially given that these days most of us are drinking alone), the word “Rhône” hails from a region of France, specifically a river which is fed by snow melt from the Rhône glacier in the Swiss Alps. It runs a massive 812 km length down from The Alps, deep into the heart of southern France. As is flows south it carves out a steep canyon-like valley known as, you guessed it, the Rhône Valley. The Rhône Valley extends from Lyon in the north, creating the famous Hill of Hermitage, all the way down through Avignon (the old papal capital), eventually dumping the melt water into the Mediterranean Sea. The area is dry and hot and is home to some of France’s most famous wine varietals: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Commonly known as GSM when blended together.

Rhone vineyard view Tain-l'Hermitage

Characteristics of a GSM Wine

Now you have the answer to “What is GSM?”, but that is only a tip of the iceberg. While I would wager many people have tried Syrah, likely fewer know what Grenache tastes like and fewer still have even heard of Mourvèdre. These three grapes, which produce mostly heavy bodied wines, are still unique from each other in their flavors and what they contribute to the blend. A good way to remember how the basics of a GSM blend works is to think of the varietals on a scale of red fruit to black fruit. Grenache is a hearty grape that provides incredible red fruit flavors. Often associates with strawberry jam, or stewed strawberry, as well as white pepper, the Grenache offers what we call “high toned” flavors to the wine: bright red fruit and bright pungent herbal aromas. YUM!

With Syrah, we move along the flavor scale to darker fruit flavors. Syrah is best known for providing blueberry and rich black plum flavors along with intense peppercorn with aromatics of olives, cured meat, and tobacco leaves. This varietal is truly a bouquet of aromas for your senses. Try it for yourself with the ZANOLI 2017 Syrah for The Crafty Cask’s virtual GSM tasting Thursday!

The final grape in the GSM blend is the most hearty, Mourvèdre. This grape brings all the heavy notes of any “low tone” flavor centered wine. When you first open a bottle of Mourvèdre from the famous regions of production like Bandol, you are unlikely to smell fruit. Leather is generally the first aroma to hit your nose. The wine needs plenty of care to open up, but once it does you can expect an onslaught of black fruit, dark spice, dried herbs, and savory aromas. Mourvèdre is most known for contributing blackberry and black plum with floral aromas of violet and intense animal notes of leather, barbecue, smoked meats, and finishing with cigar smoke. The wine can be a meal in itself! Be sure to grab the ZANOLI 2018 Mourvèdre for the upcoming tasting so you can see the how California winemakers handle the Mourvèdre from U.S. soil!

GSM wine grapes Rhone Valley

Putting Them Back Together

Although these grapes can be incredibly fulfilling as single varietal wines it is also a joy to taste them in the blend. When the GSM blend hits your palate you get a progression of all those flavors from start to finish. Most high quality GSM blends pop with flavors of bright red cherry, strawberry, and raspberry, followed immediately by black plum, blackberry, and black pepper and generally finish with baking spices and savory bbq or cured meat.

There is a reason why the Rhône Valley made this blend famous for so long and it is just as important (and interesting) to see what the U.S. winemakers have done with this style. American GSM wine blends pack a lot of flavor due to the very hot environments we grow them in (such as Paso Robles and Santa Barbara as well as Washington state) and have become world famous for the epic finishes on the wines. Do yourself a favor and pick up the Sin Banderas 2017 Red Rhône blend for next week’s tasting to taste exactly what we’re talking about.

GSM Rosé

We couldn’t talk about GSM wine without discussing rosé wines. GSM blends make a punchy rosé with fragrant floral and white pepper aromas. This is not your standard lightly-seasoned, crisp Provence rosé. GSM Rosés, which hail mainly from the Tavel region of the Rhône, are rich and savory. Drinking a GSM rosé is like biting into a dragonfruit-strawberry mashup with fruit punch, white pepper, and finishes with nutty flavors and aromas as a result of slight oxidation with low tannin content. Believe it or not, this style of wine goes great with barbecue foods. Perfectly timed for summer, be sure to grab the Sin Banderas 2019 Rosé to see a different take on the GSM wine as a rosé from Washington State.

Sin Banderas ZANOLI GSM wines

Join Us To Try Some!

Numerous American wineries nowadays are crafting some very approachable renditions of GSM wine blends and compelling single varietal expressions of the grapes that comprise them. Whether you have any of these wines on hand or not, we hope to see you at our next virtual tasting this Thursday with the makers from both wineries. We’ll deconstruct the GSM and taste through some fantastic component varietals and blends. See you there!