by VineSleuth Contributing Writer, Steve Gross

Earlier this month I introduced you to the wines of the Rhone River Valley as a part of our Tasting Tour of French Wine. Two weeks ago we talked about Rhone River Valley white wines. Now it is time to move on to the reds…

GSM? Huh? What does that mean, and why would anyone expect me to know it?

Wine talk has a lot of shorthand terms, doesn’t it – Sauv Blanc, Cab, Pinot? If you haven’t encountered it, GSM is the acronym for Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, a common blend of red wine grapes in the Rhone River Valley. Knowing the terminology is not as important as tasting the wines, though, and these are some of my favorites in all of France.

Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Cote du Rhone, and Cote Rotie and Chateauneuf du Pape are some of the great locations within the Rhone Valley, and they’re toothsome, earthy wines that offer a lot of body, rustic aromas that may take some time to get used to (wine that smells like roasted meat is TOTALLY worth it).

Rhone Valley red wines tend on the dry side, often have an earthy quality noted by a bit of must on the nose, and the fruit is usually accompanied by a fair amount of berry vine-like aromas.

Due to the yeasts involved, wine is a living thing, and tasting a solid Rhone red really gives you the feeling that you’re in contact with a natural product.  You may even pick up on some of the roasted meat that I mentioned. Experienced tasters will often sense the proportions of the grapes used in the blend, but I’m still working on that. Syrah, known as Shiraz in other corners of the globe, stands on its own in some bottlings, but the GSM (note: NOT MSG!) blends really make for a good balance between fruit and body.

Before this gets too wine-geeky, it suffices to say that these wines have earned their reputation over years and years, and they offer a very different presentation for those willing to move away from the more glossy, in-your-face wines out there.

Noted producers of red wines in the Rhone Valley include J.L. Chave (Chave’s Offerus, from St. Joseph, is one of my favorites), Chateau Delas, Guigal, Perrin & Fils, and Chateau de St. Cosme. The wines (with the exception of the Delas, which is highly coveted) are in wide release and truly worth a try. They could open up a whole new avenue of enjoyment in your wine drinking.

Wines Tasted

Clos de Caillou Vielles Vignes Cote du Rhone $30
Nice nose; rustic, aromatics include bramble and dark fruit. Strong tannins do not detract from the earthy, integrated fruit and garrigue. You wouldn’t think that an earthy, brambly wine would be satisfying, but it is. With time, the wine integrates well, and the good Cotes du Rhone are grounded wines with good fruit, balanced density, and complexity.

Domaine Rene Bessac Plan de Dieu 2009 $18
Cote du Rhone Villages
Plum color; bramble, a little sweet yet with strong tannins; disjointed and not pleasing. A bit like old laundry, and a bit raisiny.

Chateau de St. Cosme Gigondas “Valbelle” 2005 $45
Decanted 30 min. before tasting
Raspberry, bramble, some oak on nose.  Not as enjoyable throughout bottle, as it went kind of flat. It did show more complexity as bottle progressed.

JL Chave “Offerus” St. Joseph $43

Great, as always. Leathery, roasted meat, dark fruit; really full-bodied. This wine makes you sit up and take notice of every nuance. Really good.

Chateau de Roques Vacqueyras $18

Dusty, musty nose; sour cherry/candy apple on back end. A nice bottle that keeps you thinking about every glass.


Looking for more Rhone reviews?

The VineSleuth herself has a review of  6 more from Chateau La Nerthe that you’ll definitely want to check out. These are the wines covered:

  • Prieure de Montezargues Tavel Rose 2011
  • Chateau La Nerth Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Clos de Beauvenir 2009
  • Domaine de La Renjarde Cotes du Rhone Villages 2009
  • La Petite Fontaine Cotes du Rhone 2010
  • Chateau La Nerth Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2007
  •  Chateau La Nerth Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge Cuvee des Cadettes 2005

Join me again in two weeks when I’ll be toasting French Rose wines…

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