Gamay (Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc in full) is a dark-skinned grape variety famous for producing the light-style red wines of Beaujolais. While the variety offers fresh red fruit and candied aromas, it typically delivers little in the way of flavor concentration and body weight.
Characteristic fruit aromas of Gamay wines are red cherries and strawberries, often with boiled candy and banana notes. Some darker wines from the granite soils of the Beaujolais Crus can show more dark raspberry and black-pepper qualities. Gamay usually has a good acid structure with very low tannins, making it better suited for early consumption.
Rosé wines made from Gamay tend to be favored by those with a sweeter tooth, being easily distinguished from the rosés of Provence by their candied and watermelon flavors.
In France, Gamay is planted in the Maconnais, Savoie and around Touraine, but its homeland is Beaujolais. It arrived there (most likely from Germany) in the 14th Century and initially received an unenthusiastic welcome. The ruling dukes of Burgundy even tried to outlaw the variety, distrustful of its unfamiliar taste and texture. But this was not enough to banish the vigorous Gamay vines which, with its productive yields, became popular with struggling winegrowers.
The advent of carbonic maceration method of vinifying grapes allowed winemakers to ferment whole bunches of Gamay grapes in highly controlled conditions, extracting the desirable flavors and esters without excessive tannins. The resulting wines have a distinctive blue hue and can look quite tropical in appearance. When held to the light, carbonically macerated Gamay wines can be quite translucent.
Traditional fermentation and barrel maturation are used in the production of higher-quality Gamay wines. The most salient examples are the wines of the 10 Beaujolais Crus (the likes of Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Julienas). These are unlike other Beaujolais wines in that they are typically built for mid-term cellaring rather than consumption within a year or two of harvest. In fact, the best Beaujolais may age well for up to a decade.
Outside Beaujolais, Gamay is taken most seriously in Switzerland, where it is often blended with Pinot Noir. Both Gamay and Pinot Noir have distinctive characteristics that can sometimes be lost when they are combined in unbalanced proportions. However, varietal Gamay wines are still produced in Switzerland, particularly in the Valais and Vaud regions.
In Canada, Gamay is increasingly popular in Ontario and British Columbia because of its high acid levels, red-berry flavors and overall freshness. Italy and New Zealand make a small number of wines from Gamay and the grape is important to the viticultural landscape of Croatia, Kosovo and Serbia.
Until the early 2000s Gamay grown in California was the subject of some confusion and debate; wine in California previously labeled as Napa Gamay was identified as Valdeguie (an uninspiring French variety), while wine labeled as Gamay Beaujolais was found to be a clone of Pinot Noir. Some true Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc is planted in California, with the best examples coming from cooler regions in the foothills.
Synonyms include: Gamay, Gamay Noir, Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc.
Popular blends include: Gamay – Pinot Noir.
Food matches include:
Europe: Chicken Lyonnaise; pork terrine
Asia: Beetroot curry (thel-dala); duck noodle soup
Americas: Roast turkey with cranberry sauce; grilled salmon fillet with roasted fennel
Africa/Middle East: Moroccan lamb with apricot tagine