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The Gamay Noir Grape


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About Gamay Noir

(Synonyms: Blauer Gamet, Bourguignon Noir, Gamay, Gamay Noir, Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc, Petit Bourguignon, Petit Gamai)

Background

Map showing the Beaujolais region of France

Gamay Noir is a red-wine grape originating in the Beaujolais region of France; wines from there are designated “Beaujolais”. (Technically, the Beaujolais wine zone is part of the Burgundy wine zone, but the grapes and their typical handling are so different that Beaujolais has its own regulating wine laws.) Beaujolais wines are not required to be 100% Gamay—technically, a Beaujolais red could contain up to 15% of white-wine grapes!—but almost all Beaujolais bottlings are indeed monovarietal (the occasional use by some of a splash of Pinot Noir is rapidly disappearing).

There has been, especially in the U.S., some confusion about “Beaujolais”, owing to the early use of the name for some grape types that turned out to be rather different animals. As science began to settle out the differences by genetic analysis, the true Gamay was distinguished from a couple of other types, which were then called “Napa Gamay” and “Gamay Beaujolais”; the so-called “Napa Gamay” was renamed in 2007 to Valdeguié, while “Gamay Beaujolais” was determined to just be an inferior clone of Pinot Noir. (“Gamay Beaujolais” does not make notable wines, but Valdeguié is gaining a following.) The true Gamay grape is now more formally known as “Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc”, which is a nod to its white (“blanc”) interior and juice (“jus”); but most people just call it “Gamay” and asume everyone knows they are referring to the true Gamay Noir grape (Jancis Robinson, for example, refers to the grape as just “Gamay Noir” in her wine-grapes book).

As noted, the chief and most noted use of Gamay is in Beaujolais, of which it is the sole constituent. It is also somewhat used in other parts of France in blends, making wines that are similar to Beaujolais but with some other flavors from the other wines used. Small amounts of Gamay are also grown throughout the winemaking world. But you are far and away most likely to encounter it—especially as a monovarietal—in Beaujolias.

There is an especial fad for something called “Beaujolais nouveau”, which is very young Beaujolais. Nouveau is made in the southern part of the Beaujolais appellation, where the soils are distinctly alkaline, and to produce a drinkable wine from those vines, it is mandatory to use a vinification process called "carbonic maceration", in which the whole grapes are fermented in a carbon-dioxide-rich environment prior to crushing, which effectively ferments the juice while it is still in the grape. The net result is a fairly fruity wine with low tannin that is ready to drink, but has close to zero bottle life (hence the rush to get it). The fad for it is really making a virtue of necessity, and in recent years has attained the status of craze. On “Beaujolais Nouveau Day” (always the third Thursday of November), bottles shipped around the wine-drinking world are released for sale as of 12:01 a.m., and crazed buyers stampede to get them everywhere, from France to China. The wine is not worth the fuss (as quoted in Wikipedia, “The wine critic Karen MacNeil has compared drinking Beaujolais nouveau with eating cookie dough”).

(Note that non-nouveau Beaujolais is also commonly exposed to some carbonic maceration; it is just that the nouveau types require it to be at all drinkable.)

The essence of well-made Beaujolais is lightness and delicacy: it is not accidental that a clone of Pinot Noir was mistaken for Gamay. The wines are fruit-forward (though ideally not “fruit bombs”) and are intended for light, casual consumption. When so made and so drunk, they are very pleasant indeed. There are also somewhat bigger and heavier versions of Beaujolais; though they have their fans, most feel that vinifying Gamay in that way is trying to make of it something that it inherently is not.

The usual descriptions of Beaujolais are much alike, and Wikipedia’s will do: vibrant youthful fruit expressions reminiscent of bright crushed strawberries and raspberries, as well as deep floral notes of lilac and violets. The wine is meant to be, and should be, drunk quite young. It is pointless, and likely counter-productive, to cellar it.

Beaujolais comes in three basic quality classes: basic, labelled just Beaujolais; intermediate, labelled Beaujolais-Villages; and top, which is Cru—but Cru Beaujolais do not usually show the word “Beaujolais” on the label. (They seek to dissociate themselves from Nouveau, which is regarded, rightly, as near-plonk.) Considering that the price differentials between even basic Beaujolais and many pretty good Cru Beaujolais are quite small, it becomes important to know what the Crus are so you can spot Cru Beaujolais. There are ten:

On a label, the Cru designation may be followed by some subsidiary identification, but if you see one of the names above on a bottle of French wine, it is a Beaujolais Cru bottling from the named Cru. The Crus are by no means identical. If you like your Beaujolais light, you probably want a Chiroubles or a Fleurie; if you prefer it sturdy, you would want Moulin-à-Vent or Morgon. (You can see one source’s ideas of what the various crus are like here.)

Factoid: Gamay has always been in competition with the vastly superior Pinot Noir for growing space. In the middle ages, it was twice (1395 and 1455) actually outlawed by ducal decree.

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Some Descriptions of Gamay Wines

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Some Gamays to Try

(About this list.)

The list does not attempt to represent every one of the ten Cru villages; it is just a selection of widely praised Gamay-based wines. For each wine, we have placed the village name in italics, to make identification easier.


Domaine du Pavillon de Chavannes Cote de Brouilly
(“Cuvée des Ambassades”)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Jean-Marc Burgaud Morgon Côte du Py
(They produce several bottlings; this is the basic—not their Reserve, James, Javernières, or Vielle Vignes)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Stephane Aviron Morgon Côte du Py “Vieilles Vignes”
(Don’t confuse this with their Côte du Py “Vieilles Vignes”—note the “Morgon”.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes Côte de Brouilly

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Robert Perroud Brouilly “L’Enfer des Balloquets”

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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For a Splurge

Our nomination is the Domaine Louis Claude Desvignes Morgon “Javernières Les Impenitents”, which has pulled notable critical scores and reviews.

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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This page was last modified on Saturday, 18 January 2020, at 1:24 am Pacific Time.