Cru Beaujalois, it's beautiful. And it's Gamay.
Varietal Overview: Gamay
History and Cultivation
The first mention of the Gamay grape varietal dates back to the 15th century, however it is thought that these grapes actually originated much earlier. Many have postulated that the origin of the Gamay grape comes from the city of its namesake, Gamay, just south of the French wine region of Burgundy. Unlike many other grape varietals, however, this varietal was not greeted with open arms initially. In fact, in 1395, the Duke of Burgundy Phillippe the Bold issued a law that banned cultivation of Gamay grapes in French wine country. Why, you may ask, did he do this? Phillippe the Bold had it out for Gamay but was at the same time in love with Pinot Noir, which he thought to be the much superior choice of grape to grow. Therefore, he did not want this “lesser grape” clogging up all the useful land space.
Oddly enough, Phillippe wasn’t the only one who had it out for Gamay initially. Along came Phillippe’s grandson, Phillipe the Good (or not so good), who renewed his grandfather’s ban on Gamay grapes in Burgundy. His reasoning was quite similar, as he cited Burgundy’s high-quality reputation as a wine capital and feared that Gamay grapes did not produce quality red wines.
One small region of France was able to escape the ordinance and continue growing Gamay grapes, however. Just at the south of Burgundy, the region of Beaujolais was able to hold on to Gamay grapes. For years these grapes flew under the radar, and have remained in cultivation in Beaujolais to this day. In fact, Gamay finally got its day in the sun when it was recognized and popularized in the 1900s. Over time, grape growers have taken these grapes on in the United States, Canada, and Australia, where they have successfully taken root.
Gamay grapes can easily overtake a vineyard, as it has a tendency to be highly vigorous. When grown in alkaline soil, Gamay vines tend not to form deep roots but rather spread out, which leads to water stress that can cause highly acidic grapes to form, even more acidic than the grapes usually are. Planting on acidic soils, therefore, helps to soften this acidity in the grapes. For soils that do have a more alkaline base, carbonic maceration (carbon dioxide-rich fermentation prior to crushing of grapes) can help to soften the acidity of the grapes.
Tasting Profile and Pairing
Gamay wine is typically lighter-bodied for a red, with an emphasis on bright fruity flavors such as strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. This wine also is characterized by a distinctive bitter note on the end, which distinguishes it from Pinot Noir. Old World production of Gamay in France typically is done with carbonic maceration, as mentioned before. This process helps to preserve the delicate fruit aromas and flavors in the wine and keep it nicely light-bodied. A mouth-watering acidity is also distinctive in Old World Gamay, but is slightly toned-down by the maceration process. A great option when pairing food with Gamay wine is to incorporate Herbs de Province into a dish, such as on roasted chicken. This wine can also be paired with slightly richer meat too such as pork sausage, but not too rich since this has the potential to overpower the wine.
New World Gamay often times is oak-aged to deepen the flavor profile and add more body to the wine. Gamay ages beautifully, and when done correctly, the resulting wine will have darker fruit flavors, a spicy and earthy aroma, and a distinctive hint of black pepper. If there was a choice between Old World and New World Gamay for richer food, choose New World, as it can stand up to slightly richer flavors. Duck with plum sauce is one good option, as is meatloaf.
Try this Recipe with a Glass of French Gamay
Roasted Chicken with Herbs de Provence
1 whole roaster chicken 5 to 7 pounds, giblets removed, rinsed and dried well
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic finely minced
1 teaspoon onion finely minced
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning optional
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place the dried chicken in a large roasting pan. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Gently slide a spoon between the breast meat and the skin to separate the two. Do this on each side. Then using about 1 or 2 teaspoons per side, put some of the mixture under the breast skin and rub it around. Use the remaining mixture to rub all over the rest of the bird. Tuck the wings under the bird so that the tips don’t burn and tie up the legs with some kitchen twine to cook more evenly. Put the chicken in the oven and reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Cook about 20 minutes per pound. For a 6 to 6.5 pound chicken, roast for about 2 hours. When the chicken is done, remove it from the oven and allow it to sit for at least 15 to 20 minutes.