Who’s Your Daddy?: Gamay

For today’s “Who’s Your Daddy” post, we will be exploring the origins of the Gamay grape.

Also known as Bourguignon noir, Petit Bourguignon, Gamay Beaujolais, Petit Gamai, Blauer Gamet, Gamay noir a jus blanc, and Gamay noir,Gamay is a very old grape that has been certainly mentioned as early as the mid-14th century, though further speculation puts the presence of Gamay grapes in the Burgundy region of France even as early at the 3rd century (unconfirmed).  During the mid-14th century, Gamay was thought to have helped in the recovery of the Black Death, though was later outlawed in 1395 by the Duke of Burgundy Philip the Bold, due to its harshness and overall poor quality relative to its abundance.

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The edict that the Duke of Burgundy signed demanded that Gamay vines be ripped up as they were “despicable and disloyal”.  Later in 1459, the grandson of Philip the Bold, the new Duke of Burgundy Philip the Good, reiterated his family’s disdain for the grape, stating that it could “fool foreigners” (a.k.a. the Christian church).  The Duke continued to urge Burdundy to produce Pinot Noir instead of Gamay, though Gamay was still being produced further south in Beaujolais. 

Gamay is grown primarily in the Burgundy-Beaujolais region of France, as well as the Loire Valley in France and Valais in Switzerland.  Other plantings of Gamay are hard to come by, though it can sometimes be found in vineyards in California after it was introduced there in 1973, and also in regions of Italy, Austria, Romania, Argentina, Chile, and other regions throughout the United States.

In Beaujolais, Gamay is found in Beaujolais Nouveau wines, which are released in a big celebratory manner the third Thursday in November.  Not only are Gamay grapes used in Beaujolais Nouveau wines, but they are also used for Beaujolais Villages, as well as the 10 Beaujolais Crus (Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Regnié and Saint-Amour).

Gamay vines are considered to have relatively early bud break, with moderately vigorous growth.  Gamay vines are best suited for relatively cool climates, with few known limitations in regards to soil type preferences, though does well in soils with granite and limestone.  It is often recommended that Gamay vines be planted on hill slopes, in order to avoid potential high productivity and vigorous vines producing grapes with lower fruit anthocyanins and tannins.  In general, it is recommended to plant Gamay vines in a similar manner to Pinot Noir vines, in medium fertility soils. 

In terms of the wines Gamay grapes produce, they are often higher in acidity, low in tannin, more lightly colored, and fruit forward red wines.  Those that do not enjoy Gamay wines liken the flavor to “melted black cherry Jell-o”.  In order to avoid too high of acidity, Gamay winemaking often employs the use of carbonic maceration (fermenting grapes with carbon dioxide), in order to intensify the grape’s fruity and floral notes, including banana, bubblegum, cotton candy, and vanilla.  Wines produced from Gamay grapes tend to be light-bodied, sometimes with a purple tint.  Most wines made from Gamay grapes are designed to be consumed in their youth, however, some Crus, such as Chénas, Juliénas, Morgon, and Moulin-à-Vent may age up to 10 years.  The younger wines tend to be more fruitful and tropical, whereas the aged wines may have black currant and cherry notes.

So, “Who’s Your Daddy”, Gamay?

Genetic research performed in the late 1990’s at the University of California at Davis has revealed the genetic parentage of many grape varieties, including Gamay. 

Without further ado, Gamay grapes are a product of the parent grapes:

Pinot Noir……

 

….and….

 

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……Gouais Blanc

Interestingly, these are the exact same parents as the Chardonnay grape!  Looks like Gamay and Chardonnay are sisters!

Are you familiar with Gamay or Beaujolais wines?  Any favorites?  You’re welcome to comment by leaving your thoughts below!
I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!

2 comments for “Who’s Your Daddy?: Gamay

  1. Wineknurd
    September 15, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Hey Becca, if you get a chance to try some 2009 Beaujolias, even at the Villages level, these are stunning wines. Its a great vintage that will make you rethink Gamay.

    • Becca
      September 15, 2012 at 9:45 am

      I’m certainly not anti-Gamay! I was merely reporting on what others have said about the grape ;) I actually have had some Beaujolais Villages wines before that I thought were very pleasant (though I don’t recall the vintage). It’s been a while, however, so I will definitely pick some up soon to get reacquainted!

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