Welcome to the second installment of Wine Wednesdays, a series where I pick a type of wine, grape, region, or country and give an overview as it pertains to wine. When you’re visiting Europe, wine is generally a major part of the culture, and knowing a little bit about it before you go can help make your trip more fulfilling, not to mention delicious! Today, I’m going to tell you all about one of my favorite grapes, the Gamay grape.
The Gamay grape has been cultivated in France since the 1300s, but is not as widely known as (I think) it should be, although you may have had Gamay without even knowing it. The Gamay grape grows in Beaujolais, which is a French wine appellation. As is often the case in France, the wine takes the name of the appellation (Beaujolais), rather than the name of the grape (Gamay). So if you’ve ever had a Beaujolais or a Beaujolais Nouveau (especially popular around Thanksgiving), you’ve had Gamay!
As I mentioned above, Beaujolais is an appellation and geographical area located in the far south of the famous Burgundy (Bourgone in French) wine region. The majority of wine from the Burgundy region is made with the Pinot Noir grape. In fact, according to French wine rules set by the Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée, all red Burgundies must be made from the Pinot Noir grape, except for Beaujolais wines, which are made from the Gamay grape. This might explain why Gamay has flown under the radar for so long, as Beaujolais is such a small part of the famous Burgundy region.
In general, wine made with Gamay grapes is light and fruity, with medium-high acidity and low tannins. It tastes of tart red berries and black currants, with subtle floral notes of violet. The wine is meant to be consumed young (from between one and three years), and may even be served chilled, making this a great summertime wine. It’s also a good budget-friendly wine, since most bottles of good Beaujolais sell for around $15 in the U.S. (expect prices in France to be even cheaper!). Beaujolais pairs well with most foods, especially lighter meals such as veal, fish, or chicken, and goes especially well with Roquefort cheese.
If your only experience with Gamay has been Beaujolais Nouveau, I strongly urge you to seek out a bottle of traditional Beaujolais, as the experience will be completely different. The Gamay grapes for Beaujolais Nouveau are picked, fermented, bottled, and on the shelf in your local wine store within a matter of weeks, so Beaujolais Nouveau is even lighter and fruitier than basic Beaujolais and should be consumed within six months.
Especially as the weather starts to warm up, I’ll be reaching for Gamay wines more and more often. I hope this post has encouraged you to try a bottle as well!