A friend of mine who loves Beaujolais Nouveau likes to note that of course you can age it. “It ages in the car on the way home.” What I’m saying is that the Gamay Noir grape, the varietal in Beaujolais reds and known by its varietal name stateside, is an example of a red wine that is generally intended to be drunk young.
A native of France cultivated from at least the 15th century, Gamay is purple-skinned, pale-fleshed, and very vigorous. It’s grown in the Beaujolais area, the Loire valley, and increasingly in the Niagara area and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It tends to make light-bodied magenta wines that are naturally high-acid (look up “hydrological stress” if you want to know why); carbonic maceration is often applied to soften it up. Gamay is light-bodied, explosively fruity (red fruits specifically: Strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant, pomegranate, cranberry, occasionally plum), flowery (a violet note is common, a lilac or rose note often rides along), super-quaffable stuff that gives you the gift of not having to find an “occasion” for it: It’s casual as a Sunday picnic and indeed is often thought of as the perfect picnic wine. Many people feel light chilling brings out its most intriguing characteristics. I don’t disagree, but I like it just fine at room temperature too. Gamay wines love charcuterie, eggs, mushrooms, smoked salmon, brie and berries, cold poultry… basically, it can be enjoyed independently of picnics but anything you’re likely to pack for a picnic will appreciate hanging out with this wine.
Eight Bottles to Try
Anne-Sophie Dubois “Clepsydre” Fleurie (Beaujolais, France $30)
This is not the cheap end of the Beaujolais spectrum, to be sure. Dubois is making some waves as a producer of Gamay that’s worth taking a tiny bit seriously. This is an unusually earthy Gamay, though still plenty fruity (raspberry, red currant, cherry plum) with abundant rosy florals on the nose. It’s lithe and balanced and rather sensuous.
Chateau Cambon Recolte (Beaujolais, France $20)
Organic, for those of you keeping score. (Arguably this should include everyone.) Redcurrant jelly in liquid form. Okay, a little more complicated than that but in all seriousness, very currant-dominant. A little strawberry, a little… fennel? Something herbaceous. If you are on the hunt for a dark brooding kind of wine, skip this one. It’s all about the happy.
Cooper Mountain Gamay Noir (Willamette Valley, OR $25)
Biodynamically farmed. A bit spicy. Weightier than some Gamays but definitely still in the light and fruity camp. Cherry dominates, with a little trace of boysenberry. Elegant, sociable, easygoing.
Division Gamay Noir (Willamette Valley, OR $27)
Division’s a very cool urban winery in Portland, and they make a mean Gamay. Also, it sells out, so if you want to try it you will have to work for it a bit. It’s worth your time. Very silky. The grapes are batched, with one getting the carbonic maceration Beaujolais treatment and the other getting the more Burgundian destemmed approach. The result is a graceful, balanced, deeply interesting Gamay-a strawberry-fest up front but revealing layers of stone, peppercorn, and resinous herbs. More of a savory note than is typical for the varietal. And really tasty.
Domaine Les Poete Le Gamay (Beaujolais, France $20)
Chill this light but elegant wine a bit and you have one of the few reds that do anything nice for oysters. Dry and crisp with a pomegranate core, this is a simply-made, minimalist Gamay intended for goes-with-everything quaffing. The quintessential picnic wine, it should be paired with… well, picnic food. Cheese and fresh bread, leftover roast chicken, a little paté or something, a rustic salad. That said, there is no reason not to put this on your Thanksgiving table. It has a fondness for turkey. And cranberries.
Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages (Beaujolais, France $11)
One of the producers most synonymous with Beaujolais. The most recent Duboeuf Beaujolias-Villages I tasted (2016) is tangy, fruity and aromatic (a bit like biting into a fresh red plum). Light florals on the nose. 100% quaffable and ready for anything.
Georges Deboeuf Fleurie Gamay (Beaujolais, France $8)
Luscious-looking cherry-violet color with nice translucency, calm tannins, red and black fruit notes dominating (raspberry especially); this is a wine to drink as a casual aperitif or with any number of foods, especially the kinds you might bring on an elegant early fall picnic. (Its happy place might be alongside a ham and cheese type sandwich.) Pomegranates and cherries appreciate it, which might make it a great pal for Persian dishes if you are sitting on some killer recipes from an Iranian grandma, and it has an affinity for poultry, particularly cold poultry, so think chicken salads or even thanksgiving leftovers.
Grochau Cellars Bjornson Vineyard Gamay Noir (Willamette Valley $24)
Grochau makes two single-vineyard Gamays and they’re both excellent; I tossed a coin and picked this one. It has some density for the varietal. Strong red berry nose, supple texture. Grochau is well-known for Pinot Noir and a little bit of the Burgundian gravitas seems to have rubbed off on this Gamay, which is a more sedate and dignified affair than some of its ultra-fruity cousins. A little stone, a little rose petal, a good deal of raspberry. Has substance but still 100% picnic-worthy.