Definitions

Gamay

Gamay

[ga-mey, gam-ey]
Gamay is a purple-colored grape variety used to make red wines, most notably grown in Beaujolais and in the Loire Valley around Tours. Its full name is Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc. It is a very old cultivar, mentioned already in the 1400s. It has been often cultivated because it makes for abundant production rather than due to the quality of the wine made from it, but makes wines of distinction when planted on acidic soils which help to soften the grape's naturally high acidity.

History

The Gamay grape is thought to have appeared first in the village of the Gamay, south of Beaune, in the 1360s. The grape brought relief to the village growers following the decline of the Black Death. In contrast to the Pinot Noir variety, Gamay ripened two weeks earlier and was less difficult to cultivate. It also produced a strong, fruitier wine in a much larger abundance.

In July 1395, the Duke of Burgundy Philippe the Bold outlawed the cultivation of the grape referring to it as the "disloyal Gaamez" that in spite of its ability to grow in abundance was full of "very great and horrible harshness", due in part to the variety's occupation of land that could be used for the more "elegant" Pinot Noir. 60 years later, Philippe the Good, issued another edict against Gamay in which he stated the reasoning for the ban is that "The Dukes of Burgundy are known as the lords of the best wines in Christendom. We will maintain our reputation".

Characteristics

Gamay is a very vigorous vine which tends not to root very deep on alkaline soils resulting in pronounced hydrological stress on the vines over the growing season with a correspondingly high level of acidity in the grapes. The resulting acidity requires carbonic maceration to soften the wine sufficiently for pleasant drinking.

Gamay-based wines are typically light bodied and fruity. Wines meant for immediate consumption are typically made using carbonic maceration which gives the wines tropical flavors and aromas - reminiscent of bananas. Wines meant to be drunk after some modest aging tend to have more body and are produced by whole-berry maceration. The latter are produced mostly in the designated Crus areas of northern Beaujolais where the wines typically have the flavor of sour cherries, black pepper, dried berry and raisined blackcurrant.

Regional production

In addition to being well suited to the terroir of Beaujolais, Gamay is also grown extensively in the Loire Valley around Tours where it is typically blended with Cabernet Franc and Côt a local clone of the Malbec. These wines are similar to those of Crus Beaujolais but with raspberry notes and the signature fresh-peppery nose of the Cabernet Franc.

Gamay is also the grape of the Beaujolais Nouveau, produced exclusively from the more alkaline soils of Southern Beaujolais where the grape is incapable of making drinkable wines without aggressive carbonic maceration. The acid levels of the grape grown in the limestone Pierres Doreés of the South are too high for making wines with any appeal beyond the early release Nouveaus.

Confusingly, the Gamay name has become attached to other varieties grown in California, which at one time were thought to be the true Gamay. The grape 'Napa Gamay' is now known as Valdeguié, and the name Napa Gamay will no longer appear on labels after 2007. Gamay Beaujolais is considered to be an early ripening Californian clone of Pinot Noir. Despite similar names the grapes Gamay du Rhône and Gamay St-Laurent are not the Beaujolais grape either but rather the southwestern France grape Abouriou.

Gamay Noir is a permitted synonym for Gamay in the U.S.

Gamay is commonly grown in the Niagara Peninsula in Canada, some producers being in the Short Hills Bench, Beamsville Bench and St. David's Bench to mention a few. One producer even has a regional clone which they discovered, Gamay Droit, which is a recognized mutation. It is also grown successfully by a small number of wineries in Australia to make a range of wines including light bodied red wines suitable for early drinking.

Gamay has also been introduced recently into Oregon's Willamette Valley wine region, known for its wines made from Pinot Noir another Burgundian grape. It was introduced by Amity Vineyards in 1988. Tasting notes published by the vineyards at Amity, WillaKenzie and Brickhouse describe wines that match the basic profiles of Crus Beaujolais.

References

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