Many famous wines are named for their appellation, or the region where they are grown.
To use an appellation name, the grapes must be grown in that region and must be made from specific grapes. Take the Burgundy appellation, for example. There are only two grapes permitted there: Chardonnay is the only white grape, and Pinot Noir is the only red. Likewise, if you produce Chardonnay or Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy, you cannot call the wine a Burgundy. Since Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are well-known grapes, recognizing these wines grown outside the region is easy, because the wine can simply be named after the grape.
However, some of the best French wines are, in fact, blends of several grapes. Under the same appellation rules, it becomes more challenging to offer these wines outside the region, while still recognizing their merits. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a great example.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is an appellation in the Rhône River Valley in Southern France, named after the area around Avignon, where the Papal court was temporarily located in the 14th century. Red Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the most popular wine from the region. White Châteauneuf-du-Pape is also delicious, but lesser known.
The Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation allows for an extraordinary blend of up to 18 grapes.
The ability to blend grapes allows for the creation of a perfectly balanced wine, by playing the natural qualities of the grapes
off one another. Each individual grape adds a unique component to the aroma, taste and structure of the wine. While it is possible to create this wine outside the area, it is challenging to market these wines when you cannot use the Châteauneuf-du-Pape name.
Luckily, the essence of a red Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a blend of three grapes. Referred to as “GSM” blends outside the region, they use three dominant grapes: Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. In a true Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache grapes reigns predominantly, blended with equal amounts of Syrah and Mourvedre. Other grapes typically contribute less than 5 percent of the blend.
Grenache provides bright acids, a fragrant aroma and a ruby color.
Syrah adds in peppery aromas, structure and the ability to age well. Mourvedre deepens the color and adds earthy flavors and a unique “chewy” texture. While a traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape rules, other wine regions have excellent versions, with Australia and Southern California leading the way.
Since GSM grapes thrive in warm temperatures, it is not surprising that warm-climate vineyards are producing exceptional GSM wines. Look for wines produced in the Barossa and McLaren Vale regions of Southern Australia and in vineyards in Paso Robles, California.
Sometimes these wines are easy to identify because they are labeled as Grenache-Syrah. Other times, they may be trickier to identify. Some places sell Grenache-Syrah under a unique name, with a description of the grapes in the fine print. So, it’s helpful to do a bit of research before you purchase a GSM.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape and its GSM cousins pair well with food and reasonably priced wines. Give them a try!
By Georgene Mortimer, Island Winery
The perfect bottle of hand-crafted artisan wine awaits at Island Winery on Cardinal Rd. Wine by the glass, cheese platters and $5 tastings are available Monday-Saturday from 12:30-5:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12-4 p.m. (843) 842-3141 or www.islandwinery.com.