Another Wine Byte 15: France’s Red-headed Stepchild
Here is another in our series of Another Wine Bytes; information you can use to impress your friends (but not in an obnoxious way, of course!)
I have a former law school colleague with whom I sometimes verbally spar, nearly always about politics. That’s because I’m a political junkie and he is a political lobbyist. Even when we basically agree on something, we usually come to our conclusions from a different direction. It seldom, if ever, gets acrimonious, and is always enjoyable. As all political debates should be, in my opinion. Our latest back and forth, however, had nothing whatsoever to do with politics. He’d asked me about a particular varietal, and if I knew where he could find it.
AWByte #15: What is Gamay Noir?
Back in the day before people knew about genetics and recessive traits, it was assumed that a redheaded child born to a couple of brunettes was obviously the product of an affair. And while the father would claim the child as his own, to save face, he tended to treat the child poorly, thinking certainly it was not his own.
Much was the fate of Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc when introduced to the Côte-d’Or vineyards in the mid to late 14th Century. Thought to have first appeared in the village of Gamay, the grape was viewed as “scandalous” especially when compared to the more noble Pinot Noir, which in contrast, ripened later and was much more difficult to cultivate.
Thought of as a usurper to the land that more naturally belonged to Pinot Noir, Gamay’s cultivation was banned in 1395 by Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, when he ordered all Gamay vines to be ripped out. 60 years later its ban was reinforced by Philippe the Good, who stated “The Dukes of Burgundy are known as the lords of the best wines in Christendom. We will maintain our reputation.”
The vine is a precocious one, budding, flowering, and ripening early, which makes it prone to Spring frosts but means it can flourish in regions as cool as much of the Loire. It can easily be produced more generously and the traditional Gobelet method of training (the vines) is designed to match this aptitude to the granitic soils of the better Beaujolias vineyards. ~ Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine.
Wines made from Gamay grapes tend to be light and fruity; to be consumed soon after production. Quite often the technique of carbonic maceration is used to enhance the grape’s fruitiness. The fruit is placed whole and uncrushed in the fermenting vessel and the fermentation begins within the individual berries. Bubbles of carbon dioxide are trapped within the grape until until it bursts. The resulting wine has been described as flavored like a “banana,” “candy” or “bubblegum” and is often accompanied by a slight petillance (sparkle or spritz) It has been often referred to as a picnic wine. I find them light and refreshing on a hot Texas day, but Joe doesn’t care for them at all.
Gamay is also grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which is on the same latitude and has a similar climate as Burgundy, but has had no silly Dukes banning its existence. Introduced by Amity Vineyards in 1988, Gamay is also featured by WillaKenzie and Brick House vineyards.
So the next time someone asks you about Gamay Noir, think of Beaujolais, for Old World Wines, and the Pacific Northwest for those in the New World.
And that’s Another Wine Byte!