A Love Letter to Gamay

3/28/20 -

This is my love letter to Gamay; a grape that is so much more than just Beaujolais Nouveau (not that these can't be downright delightful!). When I began my quest for wine knowledge, one of the first wines I discovered to be punching far above its weight class was Cru Beaujolais. We all know how ethereal, earth-driven, and downright elusive Burgundy can be. We also know that a budding wine professional can hardly afford to drink their share of it. This is why sommeliers will tell you that the crus of Beaujolais offer us extraordinary value as the southern neighbor to the Mâcon with a similar sensibility. The quality of wines from these villages is a giant leap from the mass-produced wines of the flatter, southern Beaujolais. Producers like Georges Descombes, the Pignard family, and the 'gang of four' (Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton) have set the standard of quality in the region and encourage their peers to take a more "natural" approach in both the vineyard and the cellar. Tasting a bottle of the Descombes Brouilly next to the Pignard Morgon will give you a chance to explore differences in terroir for a fraction of the price of a bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin next to a Pommard.

Cru Beaujolais has become so popular among wine aficionados that this might already seem like old hat. In that case, I suggest you seek out some stellar Gamay from other regions. For starters, there are excellent examples from the Mâcon. Gamay used to grow all throughout Burgundy until it was widely ripped out and replaced with Pinot Noir on the Duke of Burgundy's orders in 1395. Today it actually makes up much of the red Mâconnais wines, and is used in various Passetoutgrains, Cremant de Bourgogne, and Coteaux Bourgignons blends. One of our favorite Mâcon Gamays is the 'Manganite' from the biodynamic estate, Vignes du Maynes. The layers of complexity and distinct minerality from the magnesium-rich soil make this wine a real standout.

As Gamay is a relatively early-ripening grape, it also does very well in the Loire Valley, particularly in Touraine. Here, the wines can be even more bright and lively (owing to the cooler climate) like the Boudinerie from Noella Morantin, or the sparkling rosé 'La Roue Qui Tourne' from Marie Thibault. However, if you check out the 'Probiliere' from Bonhomme, which is made with a variety of Gamay called Gamay Tenturier, giving it dark purple flesh, you'll find a style which is much denser and more intense.

Perhaps one of the most exciting new homes for Gamay is in the Willamette Valley! Since the other grapes of Burgundy have done so well there, it seems only natural for winemakers to get curious about Gamay in the region. Here you'll find they are using the grape in a variety of styles from easy-drinking 'nouveaux' using carbonic maceration, to more serious, age-worthy versions like the Bow & Arrow Gamay. This is a single-vineyard expression from the Demeter-certified Johan vineyard that is bursting with earthy aromas of forest floor and dried herbs.

Aside from it being a great value, there's a reason it's found on so many restaurant wine lists, and why it has become such a go-to for potluck style Thanksgiving dinners; it's the ultimate food-friendly companion. Try a lighter, fruitier style like the Coquelet Beaujolais-Villages a bit chilled with a deli sandwich (one of my favorite humble pairings), or if you're craving something more elaborate, it's also a lovely complement to seared tuna. If you're having something heartier like roasted game or butternut squash go for one of the more structured bottles like Pignard Morgon Cuvée Tradition. Need a go-to pairing for rooftop-picnic fare? The Folk Machine Gamay Rosé from the Arroyo Seco AVA in California is crisp, floral, and bit peppery; one of the more exciting rosés I've had in a while.

We are thrilled to offer such an array at Chambers Street Wines; there truly is a Gamay for everyone to love! Michelle DeWyngaert

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