Gamay, or more precisely, its full name Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc is a thin-skinned red wine grape that is best known for its role in the wines of Beaujolais (BOE-zjohlay), a subregion located in the southern end of Burgundy, France. The grape is also planted throughout central Loire Valley, France where it’s discretely grown in and around the city of Tours, specifically in the Touraine area. The most popular rendition of Gamay is known as Beaujolais Nouveau where the grapes are fermented for just a few weeks through carbonic maceration—also called whole berry fermentation. In this vinification technique, entire bunches of selected grapes (with the skins, seeds, and stems intact) are placed with yeast into a stainless steel vat partially filled with carbon dioxide in order to avoid oxidation. The weight of gravity causes the lower one-third of the grapes at the bottom of the vat to be pressed from the grapes above. As the crushed grapes begin fermentation, they begin to release additional carbon dioxide causing the remaining uncrushed berries to undergo intracellular (or whole berry) fermentation while still within their grape skins. This technique produces a fresh, highly aromatic, fruit-forward, light-bodied wine, without extracting any notable quantity of tannin from the grape skins. The fermentation process takes about three to four days and the wine is only about nine weeks old when it is released for consumption. Beaujolais Nouveau is a purple-pink wine that is particularly lightweight, even by the standards of Beaujolais. Most Beaujolais and Nouveau style levels are light-bodied, low in tannin, and medium to high in acid. Beaujolais Nouveau shot to popularity in the 1970s and 1980s through the clever marketing approach of promoting the urge to “get the first wine release of the season”—via the creator and advocate, Georges Duboeuf, who still produces the most popular of all Beaujolais Nouveau wines.
The Gamay grape produces extremely fruit-forward and fairly to highly aromatic wines. They are dominated by aromas and flavors of red fruits (cherry, raspberry, and watermelon) and bakeshop (chocolate and tobacco).
Gamay produces light- to medium bodied dry red wines. They contain ample acidity that accentuates a freshness and vibrancy with very little tannin. Beyond basic Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau, the Gamay Varietal has the ability to produce the less well known yet greater structured and complex Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Crus. These wines are often given traditional fermentation as well as experiencing some modest oak-aging. They still produce the characteristic fruit-forward qualities with more emphasis on dried red fruits (raspberry and cherry) but with more intense aromas of earth, tobacco, and chocolate tend to balance the wines more effectively. Many of these wines are heartier (as compared to other Beaujolais) with greater color intensity, medium body, and medium tannin levels.
Gamay is somewhat limited in growing locations. Its spiritual home is the Beaujolais subregion of Burgundy, France where the “crus” of Beaujolais illustrate the best expression of Gamay. It also grows in Loire Valley’s Central Vineyards. In the New World, Gamay is considerably limited with Oregon and California growing the grape mostly as a novelty.