Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Gamay

The Soundbyte:  The Gamay grape makes uncomplicated, easily drinkable, light bodied, light-colored red wines.  It is also capable of producing richly hued, rather tannic, complex and age-worthy wines.  It’s a vinifera chameleon. 

One thing that we can be assured of, though, is that the grape is hearty in the vineyard.  The grape is so prolific and high-yield that long ago it was feared that the grapes would overwhelm the vineyards of Burgundy, and too much Gamay might run the risk of damaging the reputation of the fine Pinot Noir the Burgundy region was (and is) known for. In order to avoid this messy complication, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in the early 1400’s banished the grape from the Kingdom and declared it to be an  “evil, disloyal plant”.   

Grape growers who loved the high-yield, easy-drinking wine were nonplussed and set up their beloved Gamay vines just over the border in France’s Beaujolais region, where the grape still reigns today.

Typical Attributes of a Gamay Based Wine:

    • Light to medium bodied, although it can surprise you at times with a sturdy wine.
    • Tannins are all over the place; some versions are light to medium, some versions have sturdy tannins.  The grapes themselves are considered high tannin, although wine-making traditions often ameliorate their impact.
    • Crisp, lively acidity.
    • Some versions can have a light, cranberry juice-like clear red colors; others have a deeper red hue that looks just like Pinot Noir.
    • Fruit-forward aromas and flavors of ripe berries, red fruits of all kinds, even apples and pears.
    • Many versions are what I like to call “picnic wines” – uncomplicated  and easy to drink.  The fact that Gamay can be served  slightly chilled for a refreshing thirst quencher adds to the picnic appeal.
    • Beaujolais, by far the best-known Gamay-based wine around, is often made via the fermentation technique known as “Carbonic Maceration”.  Because of this unique process, Beaujolais often displays aromas of banana, bubble gum, and “red hard candy.”  Whether these aromas are derived from the grape or from the fermentation process is up for debate.
    • Many Gamay-based wines are highly drinkable when young, although Gamay is capable of producing age-worth wines. The Beaujolais Crus are all good examples of age worthy Gamay.
    • We can’t forget the very popular “nouveau” style wine made from Gamay that is  intended to be consumed just a few months after harvest.  Look for Beaujolais Nouveau to be released every year on the Third Thursday of November, along with a good deal of publicity and many excellent parties.

Typical Aromas of a Gamay-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Strawberry,  Raspberry, Cranberry, Cherry, Red Plum, Red Currant, Ripe Pears, Red Apple

Floral:  Lavender, Wild Flowers, Violets, Rose Petal

Oak-Derived: Oak, Cedar,  Fresh Lumber, Vanilla, Sweet Spice, Licorice, Nutmeg

Found too often to ignore: Old-fashioned pink Bubblegum, Banana (reminds me of Banana Candy, especially “Laffy Taffy”), Red Hard Candy, Skittles and Starburst (try it for yourself!)

Where The Best Gamay is Grown:

  • The Beaujolais  Region of France, just south of (and somewhat overlapping, and technically part of) the Burgundy Region.  The wines of the region include  Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and highest quality wines known as “Beaujolais  Cru” and labeled with their village names.   The most well-known, Beaujolais Nouveau, accounts for just over 50% of the entire output of Beaujolais.
  • It’s kind of a well-known  secret, but Gamay is still permitted in certain parts of Burgundy such as  the Mâconnais, and just may be surreptitiously tucked in amongst the Pinot vines even in  some of Burgundy’s higher ranking vineyards.
  • France’s Loire Valley, particularly Anjou, Touraine, and Cheverny, where the grape may  turn up in red wines, rosé, or sparkling wines.
  • The Niagara Peninsula  and other parts of Ontario (Canada).
  • California grows  some Gamay, but there was confusion in the past about a wine called “Napa Gamay” or “Gamay Beaujolais”.  It is  now known that these wines were made from a grape known as Valdiguié, which has its own history and style.  However, you can still find some real Gamay being grown in California these days.
  • Oregon, living up to its nickname of “Burgundy West,”  is trying  its hand with Gamay.
  • Australia and New Zealand have a bit of Gamay.

 Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

Seafood of all kinds – try Mussels, Lobster Rolls, Crab Salads, Snapper Veracruz, or fried shrimp.  This might work best with the lighter versions, but if you are looking for a red wine with seafood match, Gamay will be among your best choices.

Chicken (hot or cold), Duck, Poultry of any kind.  Try duck with cherries.

Just about anything made from Pork:  Ham, Prosciutto,  Sausages, Charcuterie, Roasted Pork Loin, Pork Chops

Picnic Food, Cold Food, Cheese Plates, Sandwiches (think Prosciutto on a Baguette with  a slice of Brie…)

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Tomatoes, Capers, Dijon Mustard
  • White Cheeses, Sharp Cheeses such as Feta
  • Salty Foods – maybe chips and dips, pretzels and hummus?
  • Onions, Garlic, Green Bell Peppers
  • Green Olives, Black Olives
  • Mixed flavors such as an array of appetizers or finger foods

For more on the history of Gamay, see my previous post on “The Evil and Disloyal Plant”.

The Bubbly Professor is  “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

 

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

4 Responses to Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Gamay

  1. ruthieloveswine says:

    Please tell people know to judge all Beaujolais by Beaujolais Nouveau. The Nouveau can be fun, the the Cru can be amazing.

  2. jim oremland says:

    It is my understanding that Beaujolais is a part of the Burgundy region. A Bourgogne winemaker said that although those in Burgundy will say it is not, the bottle will say it is a wine from Bourgogne.

  3. Craig Battuello says:

    We have grown Napa Gamay ( Valdiguie, renamed in 2007 ) in the Napa Valley since my grandfather planted it in 1909. We have now planted two rows ( about 200 vines ) I purchased virus free grafting wood from U.C. Davis 4 years ago. It was Charles Krug / Peter & Bob’s Mondavi’s top seller of this style wine through the 70’S. Peter & Bob received a Gold Medal on our Napa Gamay in 1948 .We sold over two hundred tons to Charles Shaw in the 90’S, Rick Foreman , then Scott Mc Cleod was Charles’s wine makers. Since then it was made by Mark Topel, in Healdsberg, As a red table wine and made into Rose as well, Donnis Topel named it Flirt. Drew Dixon, Andrew Lane winery, also made Gamay from our Napa Gamay grapes. We have converted all that Gamay vineyard to Cabernet, with only two rows of the new Gamay remaining. First commercial crop from new vines will be this year. We have used Gamay for our home made wine many times in the last 107 years. I did find and drank a bottle that we made that was ten years old. Very smooth and drinkable.
    Craig Battuello

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