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Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Rhone’s Holy Trinity

Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre (aka GSM) are the Rhone’s sacred trio of grapes.  In the northern Rhone, Syrah dominates the blend in famous wines such as Hermitage and Cote-Rotie, however, in the southern Rhone Grenache leads the pack in the superstar wines from Chateauneuf du Pape where typically over 75% of the composition is Grenache. 
I love Grenache.  One of the most versatile red grapes in the world, Grenache thrives in hot, dry climates such as the Rhone, Spain (named Garnacha), California (sometimes referred to as Alicante) and Australia.  The varietal can produce wines that range from light to full-bodied; from simple, inexpensive wines that offer immediate satisfaction to complex ones that are cellar worthy and do not come cheaply.  Grenache is all about fruit…strawberries, blackberries, raspberries.  But, there can also be an interesting layering of spices such as allspice, cinnamon or pepper, as well as subtle nuances of floral notes. 

Syrah (also called Shiraz in Australia) was thought to have been brought by the Phoenicians, but  DNA testing now shows it to be indigenous to southern France.  Unlike Grenache, Syrah contributes firm tannins that make for powerfully flavored and full bodied wines.  However, similar to Grenache, it offers rich fruit flavors, but this time it’s black cherry, blackberry and plum.  Syrah also provides a beguiling spice profile of cloves, licorice, white or black pepper and even chocolate.  
Mourvedre (also known as Mataro in Spain and the US) tends to produce deeply-colored and tannic wines that can be high in alcohol.   Thought to be of Spanish origin, the varietal is mainly used in the Rhone for blending and is rarely vinified as a varietal except in the appellation of Bandol (just a few miles from the Mediterranean) where the cooling maritime influence can change it into a rockstar.  Mouvedre offers earth flavors such as leather, as well as dark fruit flavors.  There is often a patina of chocolate.

If you’re joining the Wine-Knows harvest tour this September you’ll have several opportunities to sample GSM in the famous southern Rhone appellations of Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas.  In 2015, Wine-Knows will be hosting its first-ever tour exclusively to the entire Rhone Valley.  Visits will include Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Condrieu in the north along with the southern part’s Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas.

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