Wines by Grape
Gamay (Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc in full) is a grape variety that is most famous for producing the light, fruit-driven red wines of Beaujolais. While the variety offers fresh, red-fruit and candied aromas, it typically delivers little in the way of flavour concentration and body weight, giving light, simple wines. That said, some well-made examples can be deep and complex.
In France, Gamay’s homeland is Beaujolais. It arrived there (most likely from Germany) in the 14th Century and initially received an unenthusiastic welcome. The ruling dukes of Burgundy even tried to outlaw the variety, distrustful of its unfamiliar taste and texture. Gamay was resigned to the granite-based soils in the hills just north of Lyon, a terroir that it was much better suited to anyway.
Characteristically, Gamay displays flavours of red cherries and strawberries and – when vinified using the carbonic maceration method – boiled sweets and banana. This technique is most often employed for what is arguably the most famous (and infamous) expression of the grape: Beaujolais Nouveau. This is a wine rushed to consumers on the third Thursday of the November immediately following harvest. These light, translucent wines were traditionally made for vineyard workers but, in the 1970s and 1980s, captured the imagination of wine marketers, who quickly made the wine’s release each year into an occasion. Unfortunately, many commentators feel that Beaujolais Nouveau has served to tarnish the region’s reputation more than promote it.
Happily, Gamay is currently experiencing a comeback of sorts in the form of some of Beaujolais’ other wines, namely those from the 10 villages, or crus, that bear the Beaujolais name. The most famous of these are Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie and Morgon, although Chiroubles, Julienas and Brouilly all make excellent examples as well. These are usually vinified traditionally and are often aged in oak; the best can age for up to 10 years.
Just north of Beaujolais, Gamay is also widely grown in the Maconnais, and most Macon Rouge is based on the grape. In the Loire Valley, Gamay is used primarily to make rosé wines in the Anjou and Saumur appellations, but is also used in blends with Pinot Noir. Touraine Gamay is the principal appellation for tangy monovarietal red wines, though they are also made in the Upper Loire in appellations such as Cheverny, Coteaux de Vendômois and Coteaux du Giennois in the Upper Loire, or classified as IGP Val de Loire.
Outside France, Gamay is taken most seriously in Switzerland, where it is often blended with Pinot Noir. There are a few examples from Canada, Italy, New Zealand, and the grape is important to the viticultural landscape of Croatia, Kosovo and Serbia.
Until the early 2000s Gamay grown in California was the subject of some confusion and debate. Wine previously labeled as Gamay was identified as Valdeguie (an uninspiring French variety), while wine labeled as Gamay Beaujolais was found to be a clone of Pinot Noir. Some true Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc is planted in California, with the best examples coming from cooler regions at higher altitudes.