With summer, we often gravitate to quaffable rosé and white wines that are fit for balmy days and patios, and we do this because a chilled rosé or white wine can be a welcomed summer day accompaniment, with or without food. While I will support this mode of imbibing, I think it is essential to keep a handy red on your summer roster. One should always be prepared for whatever the palate and the food gods throw at you!
The next series of blog posts will focus on light reds suitable to take the distinguished position as your summer 'house red,' and we're going to kick this series off with Gamay.
Gamay is a red wine, famed and primarily produced in Beaujolais, France. It is a light-bodied red wine with low tannin, high acidity, and medium alcohol. Many align Gamay with candied fruit and banana notes, which come from the winemaking process used in the region, called Carbonic Maceration.
In Beaujolais, you'll find these wines classed at different levels, allowing you to get a sense of what you can expect in the bottle before even buying it:
These are entry-level Beaujolais wines, but do not let that discourage you from exploring wines in this category. I have had some lovely Beaujolais AOC wines in the past, and they prove to be an affordable way to start your exploration.
As expected, these wines are simpler than the coming two categories of Beaujolais wines and go through shorter winemaking processes. However, the previous is not the case 100% of the time, as winemakers in the Village and Cru level can choose to declassify their wines and simply designate them as Beaujolais AOC. Here, expect to find light, fruit-forward and fun wines, meant to drink young!
As you probably guessed, these wines are a step up from Beaujolais AOC wines.
The Beaujolais Villages AOC is north of the Beaujolais AOC and found on more hillside terrain with complex soil structure. While like Beaujolais AOC wines, most of the Villages wines are meant to drink early, but some are age-worthy. Note that you may see the word Villages interchanged for the actual village name (there are 38 villages in this AOC), so don't be confused when you come across this. The village name on the bottle indicates that the grapes used came from that singular village only. My personal preference has wines from the Lantigné Village as one that I would happily drink now and lay down for a few years.
These are spectacular wines that can, in some cases, be mistaken for Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir). This area of Beaujolais is granitic soil rich, which Gamay thrives in. You'll find Beaujolais Cru in the northern part of the region, and the Crus themselves vary in expectations. You will find some of them to be boundless in fruit, Fleurie for example, while others give additional texture coming from non-fruit notes and tannin, Chénas and Moulin-À-Vent for instance. The added complexity allows you to age these wines for 5 to 10 years, but they are also enjoyable right now.
The 10 Crus of Beaujolais are, in order of North to South
Côte De Brouilly
Expect to pay more for wines from this category, but it is worth every penny.
What I have failed to mention thus far is Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais Nouveau Day, and no post on Gamay would be complete without this mention. The day is an annual fete marked by the release of newly fermented young wines called Beaujolais Nouveau, which are released the third Thursday in November. Pressed in September and ready to serve in November, these wines and its namesake day are meant to mark the end of harvest. (We've got Georges Duboeuf to thank for this.) Over time, regulations have been introduced to govern where Beaujolais Nouveau can be made and how. For example, Beaujolais Nouveau cannot be made from Cru Beaujolais grapes. Expect to find extremely pale and light wines given its short (2-month) winemaking period, high acidity and red fruit.
While Gamay may be famed due to its origin region, Beaujolais, France, it is essential to mention that other parts of the world produce great Gamay, namely Ontario, Canada.
Ontario Gamay holds notes of red fruit that we know Gamay to bring to the senses, but you'll often find more violet, peppery herbs, and mineral here. These wines are astoundingly food-friendly and worth the try should you come across one.
It's about time you add Gamay to your summer reds list.