The Gamay grape has a checkered history. Originating in the village of Gamay, near Beaune, France, in the mid- 14th century, the Gamay grape helped the region recover after the rigors of the Black Death, but its popularity didn”t last. The grape was outlawed from its original home by a series of royal edicts, with the first occurring in 1395.
Producing a strong, fruity wine, the Gamay vines were seen as competition for the Pinot Noir grapes and cultivation of Gamay was moved to the Beaujolais region, where it still remains. There are also Gamay vineyards in the Loire Valley and in the Rhone, Jura and Savoie wine growing regions.
Black Grape, White Juice
The full name of the grape is Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc. As the name suggests, the grapes are red, but produce a white juice, though there are a few varieties that do not. The vine does not do well in alkaline conditions and has to be macerated after harvesting to make it drinkable. This is one reason for the grape”s poor reputation.
However, the vine grows excellently in soils featuring granite and limestone. Carbonic maceration boosts the grape”s fruity flavors by fermenting the grapes with carbon dioxide. Maceration results in a range of fruity or floral bouquets, including banana, bubblegum, cotton candy, coconut, vanilla and toast.
Enhancing Fruity Flavors
Wines based on the Gamay grape tend to have fruity flavors; those meant for immediate drinking having aromas reminiscent of the tropics. Slightly aged Gamay wines may have blackcurrant and cherry overtones. Most Gamay-based wines should be drunk within two years of bottling, though some, such as the Crus of Beaujolais, may last for up to ten years.
A typical Gamay vineyard produces wine that is light colored, with a bluish-purplish tinge. The grape”s fruity aromas may be lost in the blending process, though there are both red and rose wines produced from the unblended grape.
Gamay is one of the most widely planted grapes in France, though its reputation suffers in comparison to Pinot Noir from the same region. The name Gamay was once applied to a California grape variety, though that variety is now more properly known as Valdeguie. The Californian wine Gamay Beaujolais is actually a clone of Pinot Noir, rather than a Gamay wine. Gamay is also grown in parts of Canada and Australia.
Wines to Remember
There are many appealing light and fruity red wines from the Gamay grape, including Gamay Ardeche, Chateau de la Presle Gamay and the wines from Moulin-a-vent in the Beaujolais region. According to some critics, Moulin-a-vent is an excellent wine, which proves that Gamay can produce superior wines under the right growing conditions.
Gamay is an affordable wine, which often has a deep red color with a lingering, earthy flavor. This is the perfect wine to accompany a light lunch of pasta or salad. Gamay-based wines are popular with wine enthusiasts, scoring highly in flavor and drinkability.