Gamay Noir in a Glass

Gamay, aka Mr. Popularity

We all have people in our social groups that are easy to like. They can slide into any conversation, interact with people from all backgrounds, and perk up the mood in the room. They always make a good first impression and leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

If gamay noir were a person, that description would hit the nail right on the head. This friendly, cheerful, inexpensive, easy-drinking wine has been celebrated for centuries by wine lovers and winegrowers alike. So, if you have not yet made its acquaintance, consider this your formal introduction. We expect it will be a lifelong friendship!

Where Does Gamay Come From?

Gamay is a French varietal, most famously known as the primary red grape in Beaujolais, France. Beaujolais is a sub-region of Burgundy, located south of the Macon and north of the Rhone Valley. Genetically, gamay has been revealed as a cross between pinot noir and gouais blanc.

Because gamay is an early ripening variety, it is widely planted throughout the world, and most critically in cool-climate regions that do not have a long growing season. Outside of Beaujolais, you’ll find loads of gamay in the Loire Valley of France, where it is allowed in the wines of Touraine, Anjou, and Sammur.

Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Austria, and Oregon also have extensive gamay plantings. You’ll find some of the most exciting examples in the Niagara Peninsula region of Canada, where innovative producers like Malivoire and Featherstone are making remarkably full-bodied gamays using barrel-fermentation, micro-oxygenation, and extended aging techniques.

The gamay vine is prolific, producing grapes of a deep purple hue. For this reason, many winemakers blend gamay with pinot noir to deepen the color without adding tannin. In Burgundy, this type of blend is called passe-tout-grains and has its own official designation.

What Does Gamay Taste Like?

So, what makes gamay so popular? It’s simple, really—simple being the operative word. It’s an easy wine to love. It’s fresh, fruity, full of youthful personality, and incredibly versatile with all kinds of food.

Gamay produces a light to medium-bodied wine, though where it falls on that scale depends largely on the winemaking techniques, the climate, and the soil. “Fresh” and “grapey” are words that often come up in many gamay tasting notes, especially in younger or “nouveau” style gamay.

Other gamay descriptors include raspberry, currant, strawberry, cherry/griotte, cranberry, and floral aromas, including violet and lilac.

Is Gamay Age-Worthy?

Most gamay is made and intended to be consumed in the short term. This is especially true with gamay styles like Beaujolais Nouveau, which is released on the third Thursday of November following the harvest. Other (non-nouveau) types of gamay should be consumed within three years, with Beaujolais Cru being a notable exception.

There are 10 demarcated regions in Beaujolais called “crus,” as follows:

  • Brouilly
  • Côte de Brouilly
  • Chenas
  • Chiroubles
  • Fleurie
  • Juliénas
  • Morgon
  • Moulin-à-Vent
  • Régnié
  • St-Amour

Most Beaujolais Crus hit their stride at around eight years, but many Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon can easily age for 15 years or more. Crus are more structured, complex, and concentrated, with more pronounced floral aromas and distinct earthy notes.

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