Often Overlooked, Gamay is the Perfect Red for Summer
Gamay is often overlooked because it gets lumped in with Beaujolais nouveau – equivalent to that of a bad mullet hair cut. But don’t make the mistake of ignoring this little gem, because you assume that it’s a sugary, sweet, soda pop-style quaffer. You can always find something just right in the “Cru” Beaujolais style.
Gamay has roots that go back to the Romans, is related to Pinot Noir, and has the finesse and femininity we all love about Pinot. Yet unlike Pinot Noir, Gamay is a vigorous and hearty vine that can often overproduce. Viticulturists have to crop the canopy (leaves, cordon, stems) more than once in a growing season to insure the energy of the plant is used to produce quality fruit. Even then, fruit will have to be “dropped” (trimmed from the plant and left for Dionysus to consume) to help develop the character of the wine.
So, what’s the difference between Beaujolais nouveau and Cru Beaujolais? Beaujolais nouveau is traditionally the first wine to emerge in any given vintage. Before Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are released, Beaujolais nouveau is fermented for just a few short days in stainless steel or cement, then bottled immediately. Contrasted by Cru Beaujolais, which can see extended fermentation time, go through malolactic fermentation (converting the naturally high acid in Gamay to a softer lactic acid), Sur lie aging (aging the wine on yeast left over from fermentation to add texture), and oak aging. All of these winemaking techniques give Cru Beaujolais a sophistication on the level of Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect, while Beaujolais nouveau has the monotony of Kim Kardashian.
Even though the French get the credit for developing the varietal, my favorite Gamay right now is actually not from France. It’s from the Division Wine Company in Willamette Valley, Oregon. You can try it at my “secrets to food & wine pairing” workshop this Sunday June 12th. It is one of my favorite red varietals for summer; sophisticated, dry, crisp, and pining for food. Gamay is one of the lightest of the red varietals, and when made well, has vibrant acidity and enough structure to go perfectly with foods like duck, chicken, salmon & halibut, mushrooms, lamb, and beef stew. I love how the Division-Villages Gamay is slightly more fruit forward than those of Cru Beaujolais, but the structure, tannins, and food-loving acidity are very similar to its originating region.
Here are my delicious Gamay picks:
- Division-Villages Gamay 2015 “Les Petits Fers”, Willamette Valley
- Vignobles Bulliat 2014, “Nature”, Morgon, France
- Chateau du Moulin-A-Vent 2011, Moulin-a-Vent, France
- Marcel Lapierre 2014, Morgon, France
As a bonus treat, look for the Chateau Lavernette “Granit” NV Brut Nature, Blancs de Noirs, France made from Gamay. It’s sparkling so think of it more like a Champagne when pairing food with it.
Enjoy, and let me know which one of these pairings knocked your socks off. Do you have a favorite Gamay appellation? What do you love to pair with Gamay?
It’s impossible to know everything about wine. Let’s keep learning.