The Gamay grape has a checkered history. Originating in the village of Gamay, France, in the mid-14th century, the Gamay grape helped the region recover after the rigors of the Black Death, but its popularity didn’t last. By 1395, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy had banished the grape from the Kingdom and declared it to be an “evil, disloyal plant.” Sturdy and high yielding, the Gamay vines were seen as competition for the Duke’s beloved Pinot Noir grapes and primary cultivation of Gamay was moved to the Beaujolais region, where it remains today.
Following the Old World winemaking tradition, wines produced in the Beaujolais region take on the name of the region, versus the name of the grape—which is likely the reason why many wine lovers are not familiar with the name Gamay.
We like to think of Gamay as a wonderfully affordable little secret for anyone that loves Pinot Noir. Because the grapes were both born in the same region of Burgundy, Gamay delivers many of the same desirable qualities as Pinot Noir, but is often overshadowed by its more popular big brother.
Many Gamay-based wines are highly drinkable when young, although Gamay is capable of producing age-worthy wines such as Beaujolais-Villages and Cru Beaujolais. Beaujolais Nouveau, the very popular Gamay intended to be consumed within a few months of harvest, is released every year on the third Thursday of November, along with lots of publicity.
Gamay makes wines that embody everything the Beaujolais region is known for – light-medium bodied, easy to drink, fruity reds with tart flavors of cherries and raspberries. They are perfect red wines to pair with cured meats and grilled vegetables as well as leafy green salads, roasted poultry and fish.