TASTING NOTES: How about gamay for Thanksgiving this year? David Lawrason gives gamay its due with 10 suggestions
Wine & Spirits

TASTING NOTES: How about gamay for Thanksgiving this year? David Lawrason gives gamay its due with 10 suggestions

Floral, fruity, and silky, it’s about time gamay received some love By David Lawrason

This story appears in the September edition of Ottawa Magazine. Buy the magazine on newsstands or order your online edition.

Illustration by Anthony Tremmaglia.

Poor gamay! The thin-skinned grape that makes those juicy, fruity reds of Beaujolais, France, has long struggled for respect. Yet when it works, it is one of the most satisfying, easy-drinking, versatile, and inexpensive reds on the market. And I see glimmers that it is bouncing back.

It’s not as if gamay’s problems are a new phenomenon. The disrespect began way back in 1395 when it was kicked out of its namesake village of Gamay in Burgundy’s Côte-d’Or district by a local duke named Philip the Bold who considered gamay an inferior ruffian compared with princely pinot noir.

Gamay took root in warmer Beaujolais’s granitic soils to the south, and there it languished for centuries, known as the cheap, easy-drinking “country wine” that fuelled the taverns of Lyon. In modern times — the 1980s, to be exact — someone got the bright idea to create Beaujolais Nouveau, an overly perky, gassy, barely fermented grape juice released every third Thursday of November, just weeks after the harvest. Nouveau, which is now in decline, was so successful that it obscured the fact that the Beaujolais region was capable of so much more.

Nor has gamay fared much better overseas. Few New World countries have taken it on. Here in Ontario, there is wistful sentiment that gamay — an early ripener — makes sense in our shorter season, but in a comparative tasting of gamays from Beaujolais, Niagara, and Prince Edward County, many of our winemakers (the exceptions are noted in the wine suggestions accompanying this story) are not responding well to the challenges of our climate and soils. The gamays tend to be thin on fruit, rather tart, and joyless, but because it’s not a more expensive and mainstream grape, few seem to care.

So why bother with gamay, you ask? Well, it’s all about the lovely floral, fruity pleasure and silky satisfaction I get from a good bottle. A 1976 Fleurie (one of 10 cru appellations that make more highly regarded Beaujolais) resonates as the seminal gamay in my wine journey way back when. In the past year, several very good 2009 and 2010 cru Beaujolais have arrived. Then this past spring I travelled to Beaujolais to visit Yves-Dominique Ferraud, a fifth-generation gamay specialist. I fell in love with the rich Ferraud wines and the subtle variation among the 10 cru wines that he offers (and will sell as a set in Ontario). They can be ordered through Trilogy Wine Merchants in November. Finally, Beaujolais seems poised to get the respect it deserves. I have highlighted the best bottles from home and abroad. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes, and enjoy when you want a red wine that is calm, smooth, and fruity — especially as summer turns to fall and you look to bridge refreshment and satisfying richness.

Domaine du Penlois 2010 Juliénas
$16.95 • Beaujolais, France • 90 points
Locals believe Juliénas was the first village planted by the Romans. Its gamays are known for their florality, and this example is spot on. It is seriously good, gentle yet quite rich, with plum-cherry fruit, floral violet/rose scents, plus a dried herbal/woodsy undertone. Medium-bodied, fairly smooth, and refined. Vintages 112532.

Malivoire 2010 Gamay
$17.95 • Niagara Peninsula • 89 points
Malivoire captures the juicy gamay spirit that has made it so popular in Beaujolais. This smoothie has deep colour and sweet strawberry-cherry jam fruit with typical gamay pepperiness. It’s light-bodied, luscious, and refined, with herbal tea notes. The even better Courtney Gamay is available only at the winery. Vintages 591313.

P. Ferraud & Fils Domaine Ferraud 2009 Les Charmes Morgon
$17.95 • Beaujolais, France • 89 points
Morgon is a cru village that produces a firm, earthy, and age-worthy style of beaujolais. This vintage is deep purple, with a lifted, savoury nose of plums, pepper, and spice and a meaty note mindful of pastrami. Powerful, with the minerality of Morgon’s stony soils and tannic structure to age it for five years. Vintages 268052.

Vignerons de Bel Air Crépuscule 2010 Indian Summer Brouilly
$15.95 • Beaujolais, France • 89 points
The hill of Brouilly is a Beaujolais landmark, and the vineyards around its base are known for making light, charming wines. This silky but fresh example catches the spirit with bright ruby-purple colour and lifted floral aromas of roses, peony, and raspberry jam. It’s light-bodied, very pure, fresh, and almost silky, yet lively with florality throughout. Vintages 159749.

Cave Spring 2010 Gamay
$14.95 • Niagara Peninsula • 88 points
Ontario’s ripe 2010 vintage is kind to gamay, lowering acidity and boosting fruit sweetness. Winemaker Angelo Pavan has caught the mood with an example featuring peppery spice, woodsy notes, raspberry/cherry fruit, and a hint of cola. It’s mid-weight and quite soft, with a touch of sweetness and warmth. LCBO 228569.

Louis Jadot 2010 Combes aux Jacques Beaujolais-Villages
$15.95 • Beaujolais, France • 88 points
Jadot is one leading Burgundy house that does respect gamay, with dozens of bottlings from Beaujolais. This is one of the most popular reds at Vintages, delivering fresh, plummy, candied-strawberry gamay fruit with floral and woodsy notes. It’s medium-bodied and smooth, with a dry, earthy, and twiggy finish. Vintages 365924.

Angels Gate 2010 Gamay Noir
$12.95 • Niagara Peninsula • 87 points
With years of experience making light reds in Ontario and Australia, winemaker Philip Dowell found the simple joy of gamay in Niagara’s ripe 2010 vintage. This has a pretty peony nose with strawberry-cherry fruit. It’s light, silky, and smooth, with just enough tart berry acidity and a touch of minerality on the finish. LCBO 107714.

Georges Duboeuf 2010 Beaujolais-Villages
$12.95 • Beaujolais, France • 86 points
Georges Duboeuf is the largest producer of beaujolais, capturing the gamay’s signature fruity exuberance. Sourced from within a group of over 20 villages in central Beaujolais, this wine sports a mild, fresh nose of strawberry and red plum, with background freshly dug earth and meaty character. Light-weight, with a sour-edged, slightly coarse finish. LCBO 122077.

Casa-Dea 2011 Dea’s Rosé (Sparkling)
$19.95 • Prince Edward County • 87 points
Something new here. Winemaker Paul Battilana has crafted a fetching sparkling gamay made from grapes grown at Casa-Dea, with secondary fermentation done at Hinterland (a neighbour specializing in bubbly) under the supervision of Battilana. Dea’s rosé is pale pink and bright, with a fresh nose of strawberry/cherry jam. Light and dry, with tight minerality and freshness. Available at the winery only. www.casadeaestates.com.

Trumpour’s Mill 2009 Gamay Noir
$14.95 • Prince Edward County • 85 points
Due to the need for oak aging, Trumpour’s Mill reds are often intentionally a vintage behind other releases so that they’re ready to drink when they are sold. The nose is very lifted and loaded with peppery hayseed spice, cran-raspberry fruit, and some acetone. It’s light- to mid-weight, juicy, intensely flavoured, and quite smooth before turning sour-edged on the finish. Very good to excellent length. LCBO 615062.

David Lawrason assigns scores on a 100-point scale. They reflect a wine’s overall quality. A rating of 95 to 100 is outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 86 to 89 very good; 80 to 85 good.