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Gamay is the grape variety most closely associated with Beaujolais, the wine region south of Burgundy. There, Gamay is made into a red wine that ranges from bright and fruit-forward to surprisingly age-worthy. The trick is to refer to the terminology on the label indicating where it was grown. But Gamay is also grown in other places too, most notably California, Oregon, and Australia.
No matter where it's from, the best Gamays produce red wines of freshness and exuberant fruit, with a lift of flowers against an occasional savory bass note — excellent on their own and friendly accompaniments to a range of foods.
What Is Gamay Wine?
Gamay is the grape variety responsible for the red wines of Beaujolais, which is a region south of Burgundy in France. And while the majority of Gamay wines are red — even those not from Beaujolais — there are plenty of excellent Gamay rosé wines, too … even some bubbly! Regardless of which you choose, Gamay wines tend to be fresh, relatively low in tannin, and enjoyable with a slight chill.
Where Does Gamay Wine Come From?
Gamay wine comes from anywhere that the Gamay grape variety is grown. Excellent ones are notably produced in Oregon, California, and Australia, but France is where Gamay reaches its peak of fame. In the Loire Valley, the red Touraine Gamay wines are worth checking out, as are the rosé wines produced from Gamay in Saumur and Anjou. Gamay wines from Savoie are also very good.
Gamay's most well-known incarnation, however, is Beaujolais, where Gamay wine arguably reaches its peak. In fact, Gamay is often used interchangeably with Beaujolais, but that's not entirely accurate: While red Beaujolais is made from Gamay, not all Gamay is from Beaujolais. Exploring the world of Gamay wine will take you through several regions of France and then across entire oceans. You'll even find some excellent Gamay wines in Australia, New Zealand … and Canada!
Why Should You Drink Gamay Wine?
Gamay is an increasingly discussed grape variety among sommeliers and other wine professionals, due to its ability to express where it's planted and the fact that it can be made in a drink-right-away style or one that's more suited to aging. It's also a fantastic antidote to the heavy, high-alcohol wines that are often trophies of personal collections and restaurant wine lists.
Gamay wines tends to be lighter in texture and tannin than many of their red counterparts, so they work as excellent pairing partners for a wide range of foods, most notably on Thanksgiving. Gamay often represents excellent value.
What Does Gamay Taste Like?
Red wines produced from Gamay tend to exhibit exuberant fruit flavors reminiscent of berries and cherries, as well as hints of flowers and, depending on where it's from, sometimes a sense of earthiness. When it's grown in Beaujolais, there are four levels of Gamay red wines you can buy. Beaujolais Nouveau is the most fruit-forward and uncomplicated of them, an inexpensive and cheerful red released the third Thursday in November.
Wines labeled simply "Beaujolais" are produced from grapes grown throughout the region; they tend to be fruit-driven and fairly straightforward. Beaujolais-Villages on the label indicates that the fruit was grown throughout the permitted 38 villages in the northern parts of the Beaujolais region. And Beaujolais Cru is the most age-worthy. On those, you won't see "Beaujolais" prominently displayed at all, but instead the name of one of the 10 crus; Moulin-à-Vent, Brouilly, and Morgon are among the most frequently seen in the United States, and they tend to be more structured, complex, and cellar-worthy.
In general, serving red Gamay wine with a slight chill is a good idea: A 20-minute stint in the fridge will brighten it up even further and bring its floral and fruit notes to the fore.
Five Great Gamay Wines
There are countless great Gamay wines on the market today. These five producers, listed alphabetically, are the perfect places to start exploring all that Gamay has to offer.
No discussion of Beaujolais is complete without mention of Duboeuf, which has arguably done more to popularize the red wines of the region than any other producer. From their iconic annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau to their delicious, detailed Beaujolais Crus, Duboeuf does it all.
For something totally different, check out the sparkling Gamay from Jean-Paul Brun: It's called FRV 100, and it will change your perspective on what the Beaujolais region is capable of.
Arguably one of the best and most beloved producers of Gamay in Australia, Ochota Barrels works with old vines for its "The Price of Silence" bottling, which is an idiosyncratic, fascinating sommelier favorite.
Ribbon Ridge Winery
From their base in Newburg, Oregon, Ribbon Ridge produces excellent wine across their portfolio, but the estate Gamay Noir, crafted from vines planted in 1985, is a small-production gem worth looking for.
Story of Soil
This creative California producer works wonders with a range of grape varieties, and their Gamay from the Martian Vineyard, in Santa Barbara County, is delicious.