One of the hottest categories in Northwest wine is red blends. And red blends made in the style of France's Rhone Valley are among the most fascinating.
Referred to as "GSM" blends, the wines are most often made with the red Rhone grapes Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, though they also can include Cinsault, Counoise, Carignan and Petite Sirah.
In the Spring issue of Wine Press Northwest magazine, we take a look at red Rhone varieties, particularly GSM-style blends. These are among the best examples we tasted during a blind judging for the publication:
Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2011 Members Only, Horse Heaven Hills, $42: This small-production wine from a top Yakima Valley winery is a blend of Grenache (57 percent), Syrah and Mourvedre using grapes from the estate Destiny Ridge Vineyard. It opens with aromas of blueberry, cherry and vanilla, followed by flavors of huckleberry, cherry, chocolate and blueberry.
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2011 Reserve Syrah-Mourvèdre, Snake River Valley, $26: Based in tiny Eagle, just north of Boise, 3 Horse Ranch grows organic grapes for its wines. This is a Syrah-heavy blend that begins with aromas of smoky bacon, dusty plum and minerality, followed by elegant flavors of blackberry, blueberry and huckleberry.
Icon Cellars 2011 du Pape, Columbia Valley, $27: This small winery in the western Cascade Mountains town of Carnation, Wash., is crafting superb wines. This is a blend of Grenache (54 percent), Syrah and Mourvèdre that opens with aromas of dense, dark fruit, ripe strawberry and plum, followed by rich flavors of ripe black fruit backed with mild tannins, elegant acidity and beautiful depth.
Efeste 2011 Emmy, Wahluke Slope, $45: Efeste has quickly become an iconic winery in Woodinville, Wash., and this Mourvedre-based blend only heightens its status with wine lovers and collectors. This gorgeous wine reveals aromas of fresh-ground coffee, exotic spices, red plum and strawberry. A rich, dense entry leads to a core of ripe plum and blackberry.
Upland Estates Winery 2011 Julian, Snipes Mountain, $28: Third-generation grape grower Todd Newhouse and winemaker Robert Smasne combine on this blend that is an even split between Grenache and Mourvedre, with 20 percent Syrah to balance it out. The wine is named in honor of Julian Steenbergen, who made wine on Snipes Mountain in the 1950s. This reveals exotic aromas of violet, lilac, rose petal and black cherry, and transitions into rich flavors of vanilla, boysenberry and pomegranate.
Bunnell Family Cellar 2008 Lia, Columbia Valley, $34: Former Chateau Ste. Michelle head winemaker Ron Bunnell is a master with Rhone varieties. He crafted this blend of four grapes: Mourvedre, Grenache, Counoise and Syrah. The result is a stylish red with aromas of anise, dusty cherry, French vanilla and cherry, followed by textured flavors of blackberry and ripe plum.
Kana Winery 2009 Dark Star, Columbia Valley, $22: Dark Star is a Syrah-leading blend that includes Mourvèdre and Grenache and reveals with aromas of vanilla, black cherry and chalkboard dust, followed by backed of blackberry, bacon and spices. It's a gorgeous wine made by this Yakima, Wash., winery.
Doyenne 2011 Metier, Red Mountain, $44: This label for highly regarded DeLille Cellars in Woodinville, Wash., is a blend of nearly equal parts Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah. It opens with aromas of strawberry and light cherry, followed by elegant flavors of pomegranate and ripe cherry. The moderate tannins lift up undertones of the ripe fruit in this powerful yet refined red.
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.