GSM is a classic red wine blend from the South of France, namely the Rhône valley. The acronym “GSM” comes from the grape names that make up the primary ingredients: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre. It also indicates the percentages of each wine that makes up the final blend; although exact percentages will vary from year to year (depending on a particular vintage’s quantity and quality of yield), traditionally there will be the highest amount of Grenache, followed by Syrah, and finally Mourvèdre.
But because wine blending (and winemaking in general) is equal parts art and science, vintners will spend days, weeks, maybe even months perfecting their final blend. If you have a chance to participate in this art project/science experiment, do it. It’s an opportunity to learn about the importance of vintage and terroir, harvest and winemaking methods, individual grapes and final blends.
The first thing any artist, scientist, chef, or winemaker needs to know — the ingredients. Knowing everything from the colors to the aromas, the tastes and textures, the finishing mouthfeel and even the aftertaste of each individual wine will affect the final product.
Grenache grapes thrive in warmer temperatures — much like those found in Southern France as well as Spain (where the varietal most likely originated). Compared to other, more “Californian” grapes (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon), the Grenache grapes are early budders but late ripeners, one of the last to harvest. Thus, they contain a higher sugar level and single varietal Grenache wine can be quite high in alcohol.
Crux Winery 2016 Grenache, harvested from the Russian River Valley AVA in Sonoma County is a cloudy rouge in the glass and emits a funky, but fun, farmland scent in the glass. Swirl it around a bit, and secondary aromas of dried red fruits and dried herbs come to the forefront.
On the palate, that herbaceousness come through even more, indicating dried sage leaves, ground anise seed, with a background flavor of dried black cherries. Mid-palate finds a bit more peppery spice, and the finish is actually a bit more tannic than expected, with a kicky, tongue-gripping finish.
Someone once asked me why Syrah is such a hard wine for people to like. Why doesn’t it get the recognition it deserves? The answer is a complicated one that ultimately ends with “I don’t know.” The truth about the Syrah grape is that it’s taste and texture — and inevitably the wine it produces — varies drastically based on the climate where it’s grown. Unlike some grapes that “grow better” in one climate or another, Syrah is successful in both cool and warm climate environments, thus the resulting wine can fall anywhere in the spectrum of medium to high regarding body, tannins, and acidity. Warm climate Syrahs will ripen more quickly, producing bolder but plusher fruit flavors (think blackberry jam), medium acidity, and softer tannins. Cool climate Syrahs will be a bit more harsher: red fruit forward; peppery, sometimes spicy mid-palate; side and more clearly defined tannins.
So maybe next time someone says they don’t like Syrah, pose the question “Cool climate or warm climate?”
Crux Winery 2016 Syrah is harvested from the Russian River Valley AVA in Sonoma County and falls somewhere in the middle of cool and warm climate attributes. The wine is dark and inky in the glass with more purple than red coloring the liquid. The nose, believe it or not, is just as inky — not unlike a sharpie or dry-erase marker. But on the palate the wine is dry from start to finish. Initial flavors are of dried red fruits (dried cherries, cranberries). The mid-palate brings a dusty-earth minerality with hints of cruciferous greens. And the finish is dry, like licking the ground where the grapes were grown.
Mourvèdre can be the bane of a grape-grower’s existence. It requires steady warm temperatures, constant pruning, and a lot of water. It tends to lay dormant a little too long, is a late budder, and extremely late ripener — most often the last grape to be picked during harvest. What’s more, Mourvèdre berries cluster close together, making this thick-skinned grape more susceptible to mildew and disease. However this fickle fruit, because of it’s thick skin, can not only stand the longer hang time, but benefits from it, developing bolder flavors, bigger body, and mellowing out the grape’s overall acidity.
Crux Winery 2016 Mourvèdre is a deep, royal purple in the glass and emits aromas of a late harvest grape — think plums bursting at the seams, blackberries squashed into the ground. And yet, there’s a subtle background scent of delicacy: violet flower petals blown by a cool breeze.
The palate is surprisingly refreshing — juicy, yes, but as if the juice has been diluted by fresh river water. Mid-palate brings on the fruit flavors and they are undeniably grape-y. The finish finds the tannins, but they’re plush, soft — the overall mouthfeel, round. There’s just a thin line of acidity that strings through the whole tasting, perfectly balancing the body, texture, and flavors of the wine.
GSM, GSM Rosé, Other Blends
The goal, whether creating a GSM, GSM rosé, or any other blended wine is to find that happy balance between the varietals. And given the nuances of each wine, getting the exact percentage is a trial-and-error game where no one can really predict the winner. In their 2014 vintage, the Crux team ended up adding 2% Petite Syrah to help round out the tannins. Again, a need only decipherable by tasting, tasting, and tasting some more.
My best guess for this year (and keeping within round, easy, numbers) is 40%, 20%, 40%. For me, this gave me the best balance of flavors and textures, but also left me with the highest quality finish — one that wasn’t too grippy or tannic (honestly the finish was the hardest part to manipulate during the exercise).
Thank you to Steve and Brian for hosting this fun and educational event.
Thank you to Emily Davis of Pure Light Photography for providing event images.
More info about Crux Winery can be found here and on the Crux Winery website.
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Nicely explained Stacy. That was a fun and interesting day to say the least. Thanks for including me in this.
You and Dave look very hard at work in the blending trial! <3 Blending is one of my favorite parts of being a winery. You are so right in that it is art and science!