For generations, Gamay Noir was synonymous with Beaujolais, the French region north of Lyon that sits between the Rhône and Burgundy. A hybrid of Pinot Noir and an ancient white grape called Gouais Blanc, Gamay originated in Burgundy, but a duke banished it in 1395, preferring Pinot Noir in that region.
Since then, the grape has also endured the stigma of nouveau bottlings released to market the third Thursday in November, about two months after harvest. These carbonically macerated, tutti-frutti pours, bearing the Beaujolais-Villages or Beaujolais Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), are high in acid and low in complexity, and their mass-market appeal has led some drinkers to believe that’s all this variety is capable of.
While nouveau-style wines still account for a good chunk of Beaujolais’s Gamay production, serious bottles are also gaining attention. These bear cru designations and notes of minerality, earth and anise. The grape has found a natural home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and a smattering of California producers are also trying their hand at making it. Those thirsty for the full range of Gamay Noir experiences would do well to taste around the globe.
Take flight with a few bottles, or try all six
Colin Bourisset 2017 Domaine de la Garodière (Morgon). Old vines and gentle tannins give this wine structure and ageability with a surprisingly reasonable price tag.
Louis Jadot 2017 Beaujolais-Villages. This is a classic example, with the crisp, peppy fruit and light-bodied drinkability.
Joseph Drouhin 2018 Nouveau (Beaujolais-Villages). Don’t let the “nouveau” fool you—this is rich in black fruits and tannins, along with signature brightness.
Ayres 2017 Gamay Noir (Chehalem Mountains). This wine’s got serious juice. Ripe and bursting with red berries, it’s balanced and complex enough to be taken seriously.
Brick House 2017 Gamay Noir (Ribbon Ridge). Made from some of the first U.S. plantings of the grape, this boasts a pleasing cherry soda finish.
Joyce 2018 Gamay Noir (San Benito). From California’s Central Coast, this is heady in floral notes balanced by earth and minerality.
Published: November 5, 2019