Wine Profile: Gamay
I am always going to be on board for a wine that has been described as having “an extra button unbuttoned.” Gamay may not be a grape that you have heard of or tried before. But if not, we think you might want to change that. Gamay, actually a cousin of Pinot Noir, is a fruity, light bodied red wine that can be a more affordable alternative to Pinot. It has also been called the “sommelier’s secret weapon” because it has such a wonderful ability to pair with food.
A GRAPE WITH A COMPLICATED PAST:
Gamay has been around since the 1300s and grows primarily in Beaujolais. Beaujolais is a region located at the southern end of Burgundy. It is also one of the most laid back and least pretentious regions in France. As is the case with almost all French wines, Beaujolais is synonymous with Gamay. The region is also responsible for producing 75% of the worlds Gamay. But even thought Beaujolais is basically the silly kid brother of the considerably more serious Burgundy that doesn’t mean the wines are simple or meek. There is a scale of quality from wines simply labeled Beaujolais to those with Cru designations. Some of the higher quality wines can rival both the complexity and age-ability of prestigious Burgundies.
So how come it doesn’t have the same prominent reputation? Well for starters the grape was actually banned from the Burgundy region back in the late 14th century. The Duke of Burgundy didn’t like how it tasted so he prohibited it from being grown. But the region of Beaujolais by and large ignored that edict. The other reason for the lack of respectability comes from Beaujolais Nouveau.
THE IMPATIENT RED WINE DRINKERS DREAM:
Beaujolais Nouveau is a special type of Beaujolais that is released every year on the third Thursday in November to celebrate the end of harvest. It is a fun simple wine produced using carbonic maceration and bottle a mere 6-8 weeks after harvest. It also has a very divisive reputation. Some claim it is purely a marketing scheme but others celebrate the release with week-long festivals and fireworks displays. Either way, what started as a race to see who could deliver their newest wines to Paris first in the 1960s has turned into over 30 million bottles produced, packaged, and shipped all over the world annually.
So what does a wine with “an extra button unbuttoned” taste like? For starters Gamay tends to be ultra fruity. Even the best examples tend to be little wild and definitely a little loud but there is no denying that they are genuine. It is a wine bursting with floral aromas like fresh cut violets, iris, roses, and peony. And then there is the fruit that can range anywhere from cherry, red currants and plum to raspberries and peaches. And finally some subtle earthy and savory notes like potting soil and cinnamon. Gamay is a wine with naturally high acidity and low tannins and that means the inherent fruitiness seems even more dramatic.
Q: WHAT GOES WITH GAMAY? A:VIRTUALLY ANYTHING:
What do you pair with such an exuberant wine? First of all Gamay is great all on its own. And when you’re sipping on a younger version, Beaujolais Nouveau or no, it’s also best served chilled. When it’s served cool – not cold – all those vibrant fruit and spice flavors explode on your palate. If you think its weird to chill a red wine I would a) suggest you get a little more comfortable with branching and exploring new wines. And b) tell you that Gamay has been described as the only white wine that happens to be red.
But let’s be honest, even though sipping on a refreshing glass is nice, I am definitely going to want a snack. And because this wine is naturally high in acid and low in tannins it’s a great partner for food. It is considered the classic red wine to pair with fish. It is also great early in the meal as an accompaniment with salads or charcuterie. But lest you think that a wine hailing from the least pretentious region in France only pairs with highbrow food, fear not. Gamay is also an excellent partner with burgers, spicy Thai food, nachos and Buffalo wings.
So grab a glass to sip on in the afternoon, pair it with some fancy charcuterie, or bring it to your next tailgate. Either way we hope you try it and if you do please let us know what you think!