Skip to main content

Why Non-Pro Wine Lovers Should Care About GSM

Talk to a wino long enough and you just may hear the GSM acronym. The name refers to a legendary blend out of the Rhône in France, comprised of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre.

While the complementary meshing of the three varieties has gone on for far longer, it wasn’t until 1937 that the blend became the official mode of the region. A minimum of 30% G, S, and M must make up at least 70% of the blend by local law. As you might expect, these are the three most common great types in the scenic foothills that overlook the region’s namesake river.

Some grapes just work well together in the bottle. Grenache is the most widely planted in the southern Rhône and tends to make up the lion’s share of the overall blend. It’s fruity and round, an ideal counterpoint to Syrah’s more feral characteristics. Mourvèdre offers color and tannin, as well as some earthy notes. All together, it’s a trio that’s as good as any out there, from the Three Musketeers to TLC.

The Rhône made the blend famous but other areas have followed its lead. In fact, in Australia, the trio is known as SGM, as it tends to be predominately Syrah (or, Shiraz as they call it). American producers are working with these three grapes as well, sometimes to great effect (in Washington state especially). But it’s hard to match the nuance that comes from the ample limestone and other rocky soils native to southern France.

Plus, there’s a certain storybook quality about the French blend, one that really does seem to reflect its jaw-dropping landscape. There are many reasons why the Rhone is one of the most visited wine regions out there, with its boat cruises, vineyard treks, and innumerable tours.

A good Rhône GSM will put into your glass some of that experience. You’re likely to pick up on the lavender and grassy notes, indicative of the countryside. You’ll taste some gaminess, reflective of the rawness of the region. And you’ll feel the seamlessness, something winemakers in the area have banked on with these trusty varieties for hundreds of years.

Many in the American wine industry credit the Rhône and its signature blend for turning them on to wine. Tasting one of these well-assembled wines can make you second-guess your current career path and leave it all in the name of enology. But if you like your current job just fine and just want to taste the iconic category, here are a few bottles to look out for:

Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles 2017 Rouge

Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles 2017 Rouge
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This wine is named after the bees that live in the vineyards and a portion of the sales program goes toward continued bee research at UC Davis in California. It’s a lovely sipper, with strawberry, anise, and green herbs, kept nimble on the palate thanks to minimal stainless steel aging.

Domaine des Gravennes 2018 Cotes du Rhône

Image used with permission by copyright holder

A fourth-generation outfit, Gravennes means “stony place,” a reference to the soils that challenge area vines and amplify the flavor of the fruit. It’s an easy-drinker, great on its own but even better alongside some charcuterie.

Vignerons de Caractère 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Roque Colombe

Vignerons de Caractère 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Roque Colombe
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A great find from one of the region’s most famous appellations. Carrying the Chatty-Pape name, it’s certainly more expensive, but you’ll appreciate the depth and finesse at work here.

Domaine Réméjeanne 2017 Chevrefeuille Cotes du Rhône

Domaine Réméjeanne 2017 Chevrefeuille Cotes du Rhône
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This wine mixes up the GSM order a bit, focused primarily on Syrah, with a little Marselan and Carignan to join the Grenache and Mourvèdre. It’s a tasty and organic wine from the reliable importers at Skurnik.

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
The Most Influential Black Voices in Wine
Simonne Mitchelson profile pic on Jackson Family Wine Facebook.

Wine is not fair. Despite a diverse American population, only roughly 1 in every 1,000 winemakers in this country is Black. The percentages are a little better for the industry at large, but not by much. The wine tides are changing, thankfully, but there's much work to be done in the name of creating an inviting, diverse, and dynamic community.

The drinks industry is evolving and there are more and more Black voices entering the conversation. Wine has been particularly slow to shift, perhaps because it's always been so bound to tradition and has a history of elitism. Fortunately, it's shifting towards a younger, broader core audience, just ask boxed wine and Pinot Gris in a can. A major part of that shift involves having the wine scene actually reflect the landscape it inhabits.

Read more
An Idaho Wine Guide to the Burgeoning World of the Gem State’s Wine
Colter's Creek

By now, if you like wine, you probably know that places like Sonoma, Oregon, Walla Walla, Washington, and the Fingerlakes aren't the only shows in town. Because there are so many types of grapes suitable for countless types of terrain and climates, wine is made just about everywhere. Increasingly, it's being done in Idaho, one of the American West's most up-and-coming wine regions. Like Virginia, there's experimentation and a real pursuit of quality, all happening mostly before the big tourist busses and front-page acclaim.
Here's a rundown on the scene. Idaho, long known for its potatoes, is a massive state wedged between Oregon and Washington to the west and Montana to the east. The mountainous north is rugged and home to the Rockies while the south is an agricultural hotbed, a prime spot for wheat and other grains (making it very attractive to brewers and spirits producers) but also more and more rows of vineyards. In fact, more than 70 wineries call Idaho home now, sourcing from 1,300 planted acres ranging from 600-3,000 feet in elevation.

The Gem State is made up of three unique American Viticultural Areas, including the Snake River Valley, the Lewis-Clark Valley, and the Eagle Foothills. Expect that number to increase in the coming years, as more producers take advantage of the abundant potential here. What to expect? Well, being inland and a bit warmer and more arid than fellow regional appellations like the Willamette Valley, Idaho is making some excellent Riesling, Syrah, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Chardonnay, Merlot, and more.
Split Rail

Read more
An Essential Woodinville Wine Guide and Tasting Rooms
JM Cellars tasting patio.

Woodinville is a wine hot spot in Washington state, conveniently set just 20 miles outside of Seattle. While most of the wine-growing happens to the southeast, in places like the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla, a lot of production and pouring happens west of the Cascades in Woodinville. So much, in fact, you could spend weeks there and not hit the same winery twice.
In wine circles, Woodinville doesn't quite have the same ring to it as the Willamette Valley or Sonoma. But there's no denying the vast scene here, full of interesting players working to further elevate the already sky-high Pacific Northwest drinks circuit. More than 130 labels strut their stuff here, amid three distinctive districts within the region. Even cooler, tasters gain access to a wildly diverse scene, which showcases work from every corner of Washington State (which has 19 American Viticultural Areas, and counting).

Here are some outfits doing just that, along with a few tips on where to eat and stay when you go. And remember to check in with wineries and tasting rooms beforehand to see if reservations are required or what COVID protocols might be in place.

Read more