Wine Review: 2009 Gramercy Cellars “The Third Man” GSM

17 12 2011

I’ve wanted to try a bottle of Gramercy for over a year.  Last fall I bought Wine & Spirits Magazine’s annual Top 100 issue listing their hundred best wineries in the world for 2010, and there for the first time I read about a Washington producer called Gramercy Cellars, started by Greg Harrington, a Master Sommelier (the youngest to earn the title in the US) who quit his prestigious position as wine director for a group of NYC restaurants in order to move to Washington State and start making Syrah, despite no prior winemaking experience and no connection to the Pacific Northwest.  He was inspired by a chance tasting of Walla Walla wines that he attended, moved by their balance and sense of place to such a degree that he was motivated to drop everything and start a new life.  Gramercy Cellars was born in 2005, and within five years it was officially considered a force on the American wine scene; in addition to the top 100 honour in Wine & Spirits in 2010 (a distinction repeated in 2011) and other awards, Gramercy was named Best New Winery by Food & Wine Magazine in 2010 and promptly celebrated, uh, well, like this:

Since all you have to say to get my vinous attention is “Washington” and “Syrah” in the same sentence, I’ve been waiting and hoping to see a bottle of Gramercy around Calgary somewhere, but until very recently it simply wasn’t available.  So imagine my surprise when one of my go-to wine shops, Highlander Wine & Spirits, announced last month that they had arranged the provincial exclusive to carry Gramercy wines and were making a number of them available for immediate sale…it felt like some kind of strange karmic reward.  This particular bottle was an XMas gift from my friend Elliot (thank you!!), but needless to say I also stocked up on some of Gramercy’s varietal Syrah to enjoy at a later date.

Killer wine, killer label. Let Alberta never be without you again, Gramercy.

The Third Man is a GSM blend made from 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre (also known globally as Monastrell or Mataro).  While I was most interested in the Grenache (very well suited to Washington State) and Syrah (very well suited to my palate) components of the wine, Gramercy’s website seems more pumped about the Mourvedre, extolling the “depth, complexity and earthiness” it adds to the blend and describing it by saying that it’s like (paraphrased) “taking the best pot roast Mom ever made, burning it, then eating it in a musty basement…but in a good way”.  Not much I can really say to top that.  The story of GSM blends in general, but especially of this wine in particular, is the marriage of the softness, fruitiness and body/alcohol of Grenache and the depth, structure and complexity of Syrah and Mourvedre.  The Third Man is a fascinating study in how these three grapes come together and make the whole of the blend better than the sum of its parts.

The Gramercy was a deep, thick violet colour, opaque at the core (like most New World Syrah and almost all Mourvedre) but paling noticeably at the rim (reflective of Grenache’s thinner skins).  This duality of characteristics became even more prominent on the nose, which featured ripe Grenache-like red fruit (raspberry, red currant) and warm rich notes (chocolate, date) but also a smoky, feral meatiness (where the pot roast comes in, I guess) that conjured up aromas of baked earth and “just-used-fireplace”, all tied together with an overarching breezy, minty, floral smell that imbued the whole wine with a refreshing sense of lightness.  The Third Man was deft and pure on the palate, kept lively throughout by Gramercy’s signature potent acidity, but still soft and approachable thanks to smooth, subtle tannins and a silky mouthfeel.  It was probably most noteworthy for what I didn’t notice:  the 14.7% alcohol level, which was so well integrated that I would have guessed it was at least a full percentage point lower.  On top of the myriad of flavours above carrying over to the palate from the nose, I also tasted danker, grittier flavours like dirt, black pepper, rhubarb and even minerality; there was little overt fruit, but what was there was enough to keep The Third Man from tasting closed or austere.  The TM was also a fantastic food match — I had it with a platter of cured meats and cheeses and it was pitch perfect.

Cork Rating: 4/10 (Free advice from a self-proclaimed cork expert: put the metal fence from the label on the cork, and ditch the website. Just a thought.)

It’s safe to say that the Gramercy was worth the wait, and although it’s on the pricier side (each wine in the Gramercy lineup that Highlander brought into Alberta retails for around $65), it’s also worth the investment.  This bottle reinforces my contention that Washington State has the rare ability to produce New World wines that appeal to Old World palates; this GSM blend has a lot more in common with the Southern Rhone wines that gave birth to this mix of grapes than the Australian GSMs that followed suit.  Gramercy may have had me at “Syrah”, but this bottle proves that my previously-blind devotion was actually well-earned.

92+ points

$60 to $65 CDN



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