Gamay, or more properly gamay noir, is the source of the French wine Beaujolais (including Beaujolais Nouveau), oceans of which are washed down in Parisian bistros every year. Of all the well known red grapes, gamay is perhaps the lowest in tannin and thus, structurally speaking, more like a white wine than a red. It’s also exuberantly fruity. In the hands of a great producer and from grapes grown on a great site, this fruitiness spirals around flavors that exude a sense of crushed rock and minerals, and the total flavor effect can be dazzling. (Alas, gamay from a mediocre site, grown at high yields then made in a commercial style is fruitiness that’s backfired. Indeed, cheap commercial gamays are dead ringers for melted black cherry Jell-O and bubble gum). The most serious, best gamays in the world are from small producers in one of the ten “cru” villages within the Beaujolais region. See the Beaujolais section for more on these. Gamay noir’s parents are pinot noir and gouais blanc, making it a sibling of many grapes including chardonnay, auxerrois, and melon de Bourgogne. It has existed in its homeland Burgundy, France, since the 14th century. Late in that century, however, it was banned by one of the powerful dukes of Burgundy, and banished to the Beaujolais region south of Burgundy proper. Several decades ago, so-called “gamay” (probably the French grape valdiguié or sometimes, an undistinguished clone of pinot noir) was commonly grown in California to be used in jug wines. Today, however, outside France, gamay is virtually nonexistent as a single varietal.


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