Gamay is the grape of the Beaujolais of the Burgundy region of France. An exception to the “only Pinot Noir” rule, Beaujolais wines are made nearly exclusively with Gamay, which is quite user-friendly in that it is a very fruit forward varietal. The grape has low tannins, low pigment levels and its wines are lower in alcohol.
Greatly influenced by soil, you may detect a minerality in the wines that hint to the region’s granite base. Gamay is quite easy to grow. Many vines can be planted close together and the yields they produce can be high, which helps keeps the price down. The wines of the Beaujolais are meant to be consumed when they are young. It is suggested that a Beaujolais be cooled, not chilled, before serving, which is unusual in a red wine.
Perhaps you've seen the signs, "Beaujolais Nouveau is here!". This wine is released the third Thursday of every November as a celebration of the harvest and was originally meant to be enjoyed in the vineyard. They are never going to make a Wine Spectator list, but I cannot resist at least one bottle every year. Please do not allow this wine to affect your judgment on wines from this region, however, as the other wines of Beaujolais are quite different from the Nouveau’s bananas and bubble-gum flavor profile.
There are three different levels of Beaujolais. They are Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and Beaujolais Cru, with Cru being the highest in quality. Cru means growth, which means more about quality level than it does what the name implies. Cru wines will be named for the producing village and they will be made using traditional methods. There are ten Cru, and they are Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Regnie, and St. Amour. The three that are easiest to find in the United States are Brouilly, because of its large production, then Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent, as their bigger, bolder styles are more popular here.
Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages wines are made using a process called carbonic maceration, which converts sugar in uncrushed grapes to alcohol without breaking the skins. Whole clusters of grapes, along with the stems, are placed in a vat, where oxygen has been replaced by carbon dioxide. No commercial yeast is added and the fermentation process takes place within the grapes. The grapes ultimately burst, then they are pressed and the juice is separated from the skins. This process extracts color, but not tannin.
For this exercise, choose a wine from one of the Beaujolais Crus. Contrast it against a Gamay of Australia or Oregon, or even Loire or Switzerland. What differences do you see? Which do you prefer? If the time is right and you can still find one, throw in a Beaujolais Nouveau!
On The Label
Gamay, Beaujolais, Beaujolais Nouveau, Brouilly, Chenas, Chiroubles, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie, Julienas, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Regnie, St. Amour
In The Bottle
Red fruit, sour cherry, sweet spice
At The Table
Poultry, fowl, pork, mild cheese
Photo Credit: 02-beaujolais-written11.jpg