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Get to Know Your Grapes: Gamay

Gamay is the second most important grape (behind Pinot Noir) of Burgundy, France, and is the main grape used in the wines of Beaujolais.

The regional map of Burgundy, France

The regional map of Burgundy, France

Often times, the wines are bright purple in color and exhibit fruit flavors of bananas, peaches, and plums.

Most Beaujolais wines are best enjoyed young, within two years of the harvest year, although some Beaujolais wines are well worth cellaring for a few more years to mature.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a type of Beaujolais wine that is released on the third Thursday of November following each harvest season, and is a ceremonial wine celebrating the success of the harvest past.  The grapes are fermented for a few days and then immediately bottled.  The origins of Nouveau date to 1951, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that Beaujolais Nouveau soared to popularity, especially in Asia and North America.

The wines are usually inexpensive and taste rather fruity.  Producers like Georges Doboeuf and Joseph Drouhin are the more popular brands.

Cheap, young wines are sometimes easy targets for the wine critics, but in reality, there are many worse wines for pairing with your Thanksgiving turkey dinner or other holiday meals in December.  The light and juicy fruit isn’t overpowering for most dishes, and the acidity in the wine is important for breaking down fats and proteins.

A sign advertising the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau wine

A sign advertising the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau wine

Most wine shops will load up on the Nouveau around Thanksgiving.  By mid-December, many proprietors will be looking to unload the Nouveau wine at a discount in order to make room for more expensive wines for the holiday shoppers, and this is a great opportunity to pick up Beaujolais Nouveau for bargain prices.

There are also some serious Beaujolais cru (single-vineyard) wines that are considered high on the list of great wines to drink.

The crus of Beaujolais

The crus of Beaujolais

There are ten different crus in total, each offering different nuances and flavors that Gamay can produce.  From north to south:  St.-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Morgon, Régnié, Côte de Brouilly, and Brouilly.

Wines from Moulin-à-Vent are considered the most noble, and are often more expensive.

For the very interested wine discoverer, seek out wines labeled, Bourgogne Passetoutgrains.  These blended wines are produced from at least one-third Pinot Noir and a balance of Gamay.  They are produced in another appelation within Burgundy called Mâconnais.

The grape also grows in parts of Italy, Spain, and California, where it makes wines that are interesting in character, but usually uninspiring.

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