If you love pinot noir, zweigelt, or other light-bodied red wines, the gamay grape is for you. It provides the backbone to some of the most refreshing and thirst-quenching red wines on the planet. Although long synonymous with Beaujolais, gamay is finding its footing in a handful of regions outside of France, though as always, knowing which producers to select, both from within France and beyond, is crucial.
What Is Gamay?
Gamay is a purple-skinned grape variety grown mostly in France, the United States, and Australia. The grape is known for producing wines with high levels of acidity, low levels of tannins, and tart fruit-forward flavors.
Where Does Gamay Come From?
Gamay is believed to come from the eponymous French village of Gamay, located just south of Beaune in Burgundy. The variety likely first appeared in the 14th century and was preferred by many local growers, as the grape ripens earlier and is much easier to cultivate than pinot noir, its finicky local counterpart.
How Is Gamay Made?
As with all grapes, gamay is vinified in a variety of styles, and a specific wine’s characteristics depend on where the fruit was grown and how it was vinified. However, gamay is associated with the carbonic maceration process, meaning that grapes begin fermenting intracellularly prior to crushing. This process creates fruit-driven flavors and low levels of tannins in the wines it ultimately produces. Gamay is often vinified and aged in steel or used oak, as preserving natural acidity and crisp fruit-driven flavors is generally the desired goal for these wines.
What Does Gamay Taste Like?
Although each wine’s specifics will be different, gamay-based wines are known for showing flavors of crunchy red fruit, cranberries, cherries, red currants, potting soil, black pepper, violets, and crushed rocks.
Are Gamay and Beaujolais the Same Thing?
Basically! All red wines bottled with a Beaujolais appellation will be crafted from gamay grapes, save for Beaujolais blanc, which is produced from chardonnay. Not all gamay wine is made in Beaujolais, although it is the major wine-producing region for the grape.
Where Is Gamay Grown?
Although most-often associated with Beaujolais, other popular areas for growing gamay include France’s Loire Valley, Australia, New Zealand, and Oregon.
What Are Good Food Pairings with Gamay?
The high acidity and fruit-driven flavor profiles of gamay make it quite versatile with food, from roast poultry to grilled veggies to happy-hour snacks. For maximum enjoyment, serve the wines slightly chilled.
These are six bottles to try.
Antoine Sunier Régnié
Antoine Sunier is no stranger to great winemaking. After working alongside his brother, winemaker Julien Sunier, for six years, Antoine ventured out on his own and founded his eponymous domaine back in 2014. (He also learned a good deal of his craft from winemaker Jean-Claude Lapalu, below.) Today, Antoine farms 5.5 hectares of vines organically and does all cellar work by hand. This easy-drinking wine from Régnié shows flavors of red berries, cherry skin, and a touch of sweet spice.
Brick House Gamay Noir
Brick House first released its Oregon gamay in 1995, and today the fruit still comes from the same Ribbon Ridge vineyard as it did 25 years ago. The estate destems the grapes prior to fermenting the juice in open-top tanks, then moves it into neutral barrels for 12 months of aging. On the palate, the wine is bright and fresh, marked by flavors of dark berries, black cherry, and a touch of smoke. Brick House’s vines have followed a certified organic program since 1992, with biodynamics introduced as of 2005.
Domaine Jean-Claude Lapalu Beaujolais Villages Vieilles Vignes
This entry-level wine from Beaujolais is one of the best quality-to-price-ratio bottles coming out of the region. Produced from third-generation winemaker Jean-Claude Lapalu, the flavor-packed wine is produced from organic and biodynamically farmed fruit and native yeasts, and is vinified with a hands-off mentality. The Beaujolais-Villages Vieilles Vignes shows juicy flavors of ripe red fruits, violet petals, and cracked pepper. After 12 months of aging in used French oak, the wine is bottled at full moon without fining or filtering.
Division Villages “Les Petits Fers” Gamay Noir
Inspired by the great wines of Beaujolais (as well as their love for all things France), Kate Norris and Thomas Monroe produce this varietal gamay from well-situated sites in Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills AVA. Fruit for this wine undergoes carbonic maceration and ages in a combination of cement, French oak, and stainless steel. On the palate, high-toned flavors of strawberries, cranberries, thyme, and white pepper lead to a refreshing acid-laden finish.
Pax Sonoma Coast Gamay
Pax Wines was the first estate to produce and release a varietal gamay noir from Sonoma Coast, and today the bottle remains a benchmark for neighboring producers in the region. An older block of chardonnay was grafted over to gamay in 2014, and the wine was first produced two years later using whole-cluster and partial carbonically macerated fruit. Expect flavors of raspberries, pomegranate, and a touch of baking spice to lead to a textured floral-tinged finish.
Pierre Cotton Côte de Brouilly
Crafted at the hands of a motorcycle-mechanic-turned-vigneron and his partner Marine Bonnet, this wildly delicious gamay from the Côte de Brouilly is an essential pick for lovers of the grape everywhere. After purchasing his first hectare of vines in 2014, Cotton now organically farms six hectares of vines across the region. All of his wines, including this Côte de Brouilly, semi-carbonically macerate in large cement tanks and are aged for eight to nine months in old foudres. On the palate, this wine explodes with lively flavors of raspberry jam, cherry cola, and a touch of herbal tea.