Through the first 17 years of this publication, we have put on a lot of fun and fascinating wine judgings. This might have been the most exciting yet, as we took the opportunity to taste styles of wines that are just now emerging on the Northwest wine landscape.

We put out a call for red Rhône blends and red Rhône varietal wines, minus Syrah. We received an astonishing 125 wines, half of which were blends. Our judges had the opportunity to taste through wines that could well play an important role in the future of the Washington, Oregon and Idaho wine industries.

The Rhône Valley is in southern France and follows the Rhône River. It is separated into two regions: the northern and southern Rhône. The north is cooler, and the only red wine grape permitted there is Syrah. In the south, which is much more Mediterranean in climate, also is much more diverse, with up to 10 red varieties allowed.

Several of these grapes have made their way to the New World, particularly Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. But we also are seeing lesser-known grapes such as Cinsault, Carignan, Counoise and Petite Sirah.

Red Rhône blends

Traditionally from France’s Rhône Valley in southern France, these styles of reds are a contrast to the big, brooding wines of Bordeaux or the elegant, ethereal reds of Burgundy.

In the New World, this category of wine is known as “GSM,” which stands for the three most common grapes used in the blend: Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. However, other Rhône varieties also find their way into the mix, including Counoise, Cinsault, Carignan and Petite Sirah.


Cairdeas Winery 2011 Greine, Columbia Valley, $38: Based on the north shore of Lake Chelan, this Rhône-focused winery has crafted a delicious blend of Syrah (co-fermented with Viognier) and Petite Sirah that offers up aromas and flavors of boysenberry, blueberry and vanilla ice cream. It’s all backed with bold tannins. (75 cases, 13.5% alc.)