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It’s time to try the GSM blend

As a wine writer, people will often ask me what my favourite wine is, but it is a question that I find very difficult to answer. My choice of wine at any given time will depend on what I’m eating, what mood I’m in and even what the weather is like. However, if I am forced into an answer, then I will admit that a good Châteauneuf du Pape is hard to beat.

Châteauneuf du Pape is the oldest and most famous appellation in the Southern Rhône area of Eastern France. While there are thirteen different varieties of grapes permitted in Châteauneuf du Pape, it is just three of these grapes than define the style of the wine produced here and of the Southern Rhône region as a whole. These three grapes are Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, commonly known as the GSM blend. Although they are all black grapes, they each provide their own individual and distinctive contribution to this classic and timeless blend.

Grenache is the most common grape used in a typical GSM from the Southern Rhône. It grows well in this region due to the warm climate and the dry soils that contain the famous galets roulés – large, round stones that absorb and retain heat from the sun during the day and then slowly release this heat to the vines during the night. Grenache is the lightest of the three grapes and brings luscious red fruit flavours such as strawberries and red cherries to the wine and also a touch of spice.

Syrah is the dominant grape variety in the Northern Rhône, where some very fine wines are produced. It is also very common in the Southern Rhône and is the second most dominant grape in the GSM blend. This thick-skinned variety grows well in a warm climate like the Southern Rhône and brings more black fruit flavours such as blackberries and black cherries to the wine. Syrah is also renowned for its delicious black pepper and liquorice notes.

Mourvèdre is the boldest of the three grapes and usually used more sparingly than the other two in the blend. It adds intense black fruit flavours and earthy tones and brings a greater tannic structure and complexity to the wine.

Despite my love for a glass of Châteauneuf du Pape, it tends to be one that I save for a special occasion as it usually comes with a hefty price tag. Fortunately, there are many budget-friendly options to try as an alternative. Châteauneuf du Pape is only one appellation in the Southern Rhône and while it produces some of the is the most famous and most highly revered wines in the area, there are several neighbouring appellations that produce very similar wines at a more affordable price. Gigondas, Cairanne, Rasteau and Vacqueras are all names worth looking out for.

GSM blends aren’t only to be found in the Southern Rhône either. Some very decent GSM blends are currently being produced in California. Australia also produces some good GSM blends too, although they will often be dominated by Shiraz (the Australia name for Syrah) instead of Grenache and for this reason are often called SGM blend instead. However, in my opinion, one of the best GSM wines from outside of France is the iconic Chocolate Block wine from the Franschhoek region of South Africa. It is produced mainly using Grenache and Syrah, but instead of Mourvèdre, it is blended with a little Cinsault and Cabernet Sauvignon. It has beautifully rich, dark fruit flavours such as blueberry and blackberry and has a smooth and elegant finish – absolutely delicious!

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