All about the Gamay grape variety

Thanks to the exceptional quality of the 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and especially 2015 vintages, this is the perfect time to learn all about the Gamay grape variety . Its most famous product comes from the granite hills of Beaujolais. It is also in this region that it is most cultivated in France, which has earned it the distinctive name of Gamay Beaujolais.

Origin and history

According to various sources, this French vat variety comes from the hamlet of Gamay in the commune of Saint-Aubin, near the Côte de Beaune . It was widely planted in Burgundy in the Middle Ages, and came to compete with Pinot Noir over time, thus damaging the reputation of the wines. Its reputation at that time came from the fact that it was more productive, its quantity providing excellent returns even at the expense of its quality.

The Duke of Burgundy, Philippe le Hardi, ended up being moved by the aptitudes of this grape variety, in particular its taste and its texture. Fearing for the supply of his table, he asks to tear up as far as Mâcon the "vile and disloyal plant" that was this grape variety , reserving it for Beaujolais. The impact of the nature of the soil on the quality of the wines was already well known at that time.

After this somewhat forced departure, he resigned himself to granite soils in the hills, between Mâcon and Lyon. It was also better suited to these terroirs, which allowed Beaujolais and Mâcon to conquer their glory, each vineyard having its own red grape variety.

Its effect on the quality of Beaujolais wines does not leave winegrowers from other vineyards indifferent. Producers eager to be paid quickly for their annual production have embarked on the cultivation of this ephemeral and evanescent variety. This is how the winegrowers of the Loire Valley are adopting it in turn, because it allows them to produce wines that are quickly ready for sale. The sale is also facilitated by the proximity of the Parisian market and Northern Europe (via the port of Nantes).

A DNA analysis was carried out in 1999 by researchers from ENSAM, INRA and the University of California at Davis, whose aim was to study the grape varieties of northeastern France. According to this analysis, it would be the result of the cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc , just like the other Pinots , Chardonnay and Melon de Bourgogne . It is precisely called Gamay noir à jus blanc or Gamay Beaujolais , to distinguish it from the wide range of its dyer cousins: Gamay de Bouze (in Côte-d'Or), Gamay de Chaudenay (in Saône-et- Loire), Gamay Fréaux (in the Côte Chalonnaise). It should also not be confused with Gamay du Saint-Laurent (in the south-west) or Gamay du Rhône, which are rather from Abouriou.

Production areas and wines produced

His favorite land is Beaujolais . It gives by carbonic maceration the Beaujolais-Village, the Crus of the same region and the famous Beaujolais Nouveau , whose release is scheduled for the third Thursday of November immediately following the harvest. Thanks to Gamay, these last wines are very fruity with hints of raspberry and strawberry. They were traditionally aimed at winemakers, but in the 1970s and 1980s they captured the attention of wine specialists who made their release an event.

In the north of Burgundy , it is widely cultivated and is used to produce the great red wines of the Mâconnais. In the south of Burgundy, it is traditionally blended with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to obtain the famous Bourgogne passe-tout-grains; but the Burgundians also use it for the production of Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire, Coteaux de Bourgogne and certain Crémant de Bourgogne. In the Loire Valley, it is found in Les Coteaux du Vendômois, and it is used there for the production of rosé wines in the Anjou and Saumur appellations. It is also used in Moselle (in the vineyards of Ancy-sur-Moselle), in Auvergne, in the South-West and in the vineyards of Savoie. Today, more than 34,000 hectares of Gamay are cultivated in France, including 23,000 hectares in Beaujolais. It has the highest planting density in the world on this terroir, from 9 to 13,000 vines per hectare.

In the rest of the world, it is grown in Italy (Aosta Valley), Switzerland (cantons of Valais, Vaud and Geneva), Spain, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria and Australia.

Main characteristics

Gamay is a variety with small compact clusters , medium berries, purple black, abundant bloom, colorless juice and simple flavor. It is not very vigorous and tends to exhaust itself in too fertile conditions or in a very hot climate. But it is fertile, and its short size ensures a long life.

It can be subject to millerandage during flowering, especially in the event of unfavorable climatic conditions . It is sensitive to late frost due to its precocity, but still ensures a small harvest thanks to its ability to produce flowers on secondary buds. Sun scorch also affects it, but training can reduce its sensitivity to this phenomenon. It is also susceptible to gray rot (which can give it a taste of geosmin), excoriosis, esca, downy mildew, botrytis and powdery mildew.

Gamay wines have a good acid structure for a red wine , hence their very refreshing, tangy and sometimes very greedy character. They are warm, with very fruity and spicy aromas, but not very tannic and without too much aromatic complexity. They are often to be drunk young, and can be enjoyed chilled, which makes them very popular red wines.

In addition to reds, Gamay also gives fruity and elegant rosé wines. Its best expressions are obtained by semi-carbonic maceration . The wines thus produced generally have a short shelf life, but they can be kept and improved for five to ten years when they come from particular terroirs, as is the case with the Beaujolais Crus. They can be kept even longer in good vintages and the most reputable domains.