Gamay Noir was planted in South Africa by many producers from the 1920’s, but was removed in favour of Cinsault vines that were a more consistent producer. Nederburg revived interest in Gamay with a release of a nouveau-styled wine in 1985. But today, the number of vineyards is tiny.
Gamay is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, and is synonymous with Beaujolais, where it is thought to have first appeared in the village of Hamay in the 1360s. It was outlawed by Philippe the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, in 1935. He actually referred to it as the ‘disloyal Gameez’ having a ‘very great and horrible harshness’ and taking up valuable land that could be used for more ‘elegant Pinot Noir’.
It is also grown extensively in France in the Loire Valley and Tours. As well as in Canada, Switzerland, Oregon, and New Zealand.
Also known as:
The full name of the grape as legislated by the European Union is Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc because of its almost white flesh, and as a means of distinguishing it from other Gamay varieties eg. Jurançon. But it has around 150 synonyms including:
Beaujolais, Bourguignon Noir, Petit Bourguignon, Gamay Beaujolais, and Petit Gamai in France. In Germany it is known as Blauer Gamet.
On the vine:
Tough skinned, medium sized, oval shaped purple berries covered in black bloom. It’s a vigorous grower producing in abundance if not curbed. Ripening earlier than Pinot Noir, it is certainly easier to cultivate than Pinot.
In the bottle:
Similar to Pinot Noir, expect cherry, raspberry, blackcurrant, violets, game, light pepper, herbs, dried carnations. Where carbonic maceration is used in the winemaking, strawberry sweets and banana aromas are commonly found. When made traditionally, there may be notes of bacon.
It can be made in either the light carbonic style synonymous with Beaujolais Nouveau (released on the 3rd Thursday in November after the harvest), or as a fuller bodied, spicy, traditional style found in the Beaujolais Villages and Crus.
Gamay usually has high acidity and lighter tannins, though the tannins can be boosted through oak maturation.
Lighter styled wines are created to be drunk early eg. Beaujolais Nouveau. But oaked, full bodied wines can benefit from a short period of bottle ageing for up to 5 years.
Dark berries, raspberries, plums, game, earth, barnyard and spice on the nose. Darker than the Beaujolais feels I’d been chasing…a bit of me missed the sour cherries but there’s still good acidity and gentle tannins. Juicy and fresh. The grapes were hand harvested at dawn, a combo of whole bunch and whole berry carbonic maceration using wild yeasts. Basket pressed, 12 months in older French oak and unfiltered.
The high acidity and low tannins of Gamay make it an excellent food pairing wine…you’d struggle to go wrong when pairing this wine with most meals. Cold turkey or chicken sandwiches with maybe a smear of raspberry jam, a bacon and chicken salad strewed with cranberries and goats cheese, even sushi when you’d prefer a red wine. And as a veggie option, I’d try a fruity vegetable tagine complete with dates, prunes and dried apricots. Fun fact – it’s one of the lowest calorie wines! Bonus!
Find the Wine:
Other wines to try:
Villiera Stand Alone Gamay Noir