With a growing consumer interest in lighter bodied red wines as well as reds with lighter alcohol levels, this is good news for Beaujolais and other premium red wines made from the Gamay grape.
What is Gamay’s Main Characteristics?
Like Pinot Noir, Gamay tends to produce light-bodied reds that are relatively high in natural acidity and low in tannins. The French call these ‘Vin de Soif’, literally ‘Thirst Wine’ or thirst-quenching wine.
Gamay is a relatively high-cropping variety that grows alongside or close to Pinot Noir, as in Burgundy/Beaujolais and the Tours Valley in the Loire. It ripens earlier than Pinot Noir, is less sensitive to climatic extremes and has greater disease resistance. Consequently, it’s becoming a more popular choice than Pinot Noir for New World winemakers.
The lightest wines are bright, juicy and aromatic and are intended to be consumed within the first year or two of bottling. These are made using the ‘carbonic maceration’ technique where the grape berries are fermented whole without crushing. This has the effect of softening the wine’s acidity.
When Gamay is grown on more volcanic soils such as granite, as in the ‘Crus’ of Beaujolais, the wines have more colour, structure and intensity and can be enjoyed for up to ten years or more. The winemaking techniques are adjusted to facilitate this and may only involve partial carbonic maceration.
Where Can You Find Premium Expressions of Gamay?
The most famous premium expressions of Gamay can be found in the ten ‘Crus’ of Beaujolais.
Crus de Beaujolais
Seven of these are named after actual villages while the other three are named after local landmarks.
From north to south, these are Saint Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin à Vent (an historic windmill), Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly (these latter two are named after Mont Brouilly that dominates the landscape here).
All ten crus have subtle differences in taste, body and ageing ability but essentially are best appreciated with food.
We stock a great example in Olivier Ravier’s Fleurie. One of the most renowned of all the Beaujolais crus, Fleurie is recognised by its floral aromatic style and elegance on the palate. Olivier’s version is made from vines whose average age is over 40 years and planted on the village’s famous pink granite soils. These unique soils serve to lift the aromas in the wine amplifying the lilac and violet scents that are present. On the palate, there’s ripe cherry and damsons with a hint of cocoa too and the tannins are like silk. Pair this with roast chicken or even pheasant and serve on the cool side.
If you like Fleurie, you might also like to try Domaine de Colette’s Régnié. Elevated to ‘Cru’ status as recently as 1988, the wines of Régnié are noted to have an elegance similar to Fleurie. This example is crafted by Jacky Gauthier, who works with a low intervention approach. Working organically in the vineyard, he takes great care of his prized 45-80 year old vines. The wine is fresh and beautifully aromatic with intense red berry fruits and fine, well integrated tannins. Serve closer to room temperature for optimum enjoyment.
Head to the central area of the Loire valley around Tours and you can find Gamay blends that produce spicier reds. Malbec (referenced locally as ‘Côt’) and Cabernet Franc are the other blending components that add backbone.
To the north of Tours and further up river lie the regions of Touraine, Chenonceaux, Cheverny and Coteaux du Giennois, all appellations that present Gamay as a mono-varietal in more ‘Beaujolais-like’ guises.
Gamay thrives in the Pinot Noir mecca of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Niagara Peninsula in Canada is another hotspot and makes juicy single varietal reds and blended rosés.
Switzerland produces some great examples of mono-varietal Gamays, again not dissimilar to good Beaujolais, and they also blend it with Pinot Noir too.
We can highly recommend AOC Mont sur Rolle Grand Cru from Domaine de Maison Blanche. Based on the shore of Lake Geneva, the 13th Century house is surrounded by its own vines. Owned and run by the de Mestral family, custodians since 1528, they work sustainably following organic principles. There’s a vibrant raspberry aroma and flavour with a light tannin structure that will continue improving for up to 6 years in the bottle. Again, this can be served on the cool side and pairs beautifully with cold cuts and medium strength cheeses.
Croatia, Kosovo and Serbia are also good sources of Gamay. Most of these wines are consumed within their own countries.
Rest of the World
Australia has seen Gamay’s popularity grow quite considerably over the past 20 years even though early plantings went into the Hunter Valley in the mid-1970s and Gippsland in Victoria in the late 80s. Tasmania, the Adelaide Hills and Mornington Peninsula have also been identified as giving the ideal soils and growing conditions to make delicious Gamays.
New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay and Central Otago regions have also emerged as exciting areas for Gamay showing more complexity and a sense of terroir, akin to the best of Beaujolais.
With Beaujolais Nouveau Day approaching (always the third Thursday of November), why not break with tradition and elevate your enjoyment with a Gamay that’s a little more special.