Gamay Noir, or Gamay as it commonly is called, is a black grape from France above all well known for being the grape in Beaujolais Noveau.
Gamay Noir is a grape whose vine tends to not have so deep roots. This causes water stress during the growth season, resulting in the mature grapes having unusually high levels of acidity at the time of harvest. The grape’s aromas will typically be of light, red fruit.
The wine which most people link to the Gamay grape is Beaujolais Nouveau. This wine is distributed very soon after harvest, e.g. on the third Thursday in November e.g. some six to eight weeks after harvest. Beaujolais Nouveau is vinified with the carbonic maceration method, producing wines where the vinification amplifies fruitiness and lower the tannin levels. In terms of aromas, you can expect to find light, red fruit, such as kirsch, cherry and plum together with synthetic candies and boiled bananas.
If you prefer the more usual style of wine, e.g. not vinified with carbonic maceration, there are full bodied Beaujolais wines from ten different Cru. Their wines come in different styles, predominantly with aromas of red fruit, such as kirsch, cherry and plum.
- Brouilly, Régnié, Chiroubles; Light bodied, best if consumed within three years
- Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Saint-Amour; Medium bodied, best if consumed within four years
- Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent; The fullest body, best if consumed between four and ten years after harvest
An excellent food pairing for a light Beaujolais is cold ham or cold turkey, maybe with some cranberry sauce.
If you’re having a medium or “full bodied” Beaujolais, you would like to pair it with roasted bird meat, white or red. The wine is best served at 12-14°C/54-57°F
Where is it grown?
Gamay is losing ground on a world-wide basis. With 31.927 ha/78,893 ac it is the thirty-second most planted grape on Earth. This corresponds to a decrease of sixteen percent in ten years.
Ninety-three percent of Gamay’s plantings are in France, where it is the tenth most planted grape variety. As can be expected, most plantings are in Beaujolais (17.954 ha/44,365 ac), situated between southern Burgundy and northern Rhône.
There are however substantial plantings in other parts of France as well, in Loire (4.648 ha/11,485 ac), Bourgogne (2.608 ha/6,445 ac), and South West France (1.287 ha/3,180 ac), particularly in Tarn.
Plantings in France are however down with almost fifteen percent in ten years.
Outside of France, Gamay Noir is an important variety above all in Switzerland, where it is the third most planted grape. The three regions Valais, Vaud and Geneva make up most of the 1.521 ha/3,758 ac.
In Canada, Turkey, Italy, and Luxembourg there are plantings between 220 and 100 ha/544 and 247 ac.
Very small plantings are found in South Africa, Brazil, New Zealand, Uruguay, Hungary, Argentina, United Kingdom, Chile, and Portugal.
One interesting observation is that among the reported plantings in 2010, several came from countries where Gamay was not planted in 2000.
Gamay Noir is an old grape, which is supported by the variety’s one hundred and fifty-one synonyms. More importantly there is documentation of the grape being banned from Burgundy in the late fourteenth century due to the low quality of the wine it produced. It then was moved south to Beaujolais which became its heartland, and still is.
There is a hypothesis that it came to Burgundy from Germany, while there is another claim that it is native to Burgundy.