The Gamay Grape of Beaujolais
Teresa MacDonald, Area Representative, Oakville, Burlington and Niagara, ON
In 1395, Phillip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, outlawed the Gamay grape because he considered it a “bad and disloyal vine”. Yikes! It’s a good thing Gamay managed to survive in Beaujolais so that we can still enjoy it today.
Beaujolais is at the very southern end of Burgundy, but the climate, soil and topography are quite different and, as a result, the wines are not like the earthy, fuller-bodied Pinot Noirs that the Duke liked so much.
Beaujolais produces more fresh, fruit-driven, low-tannin red wine than anywhere else in the world. It is made exclusively from the Gamay Noir grape and comes with several AOCs:
> Beaujolais is the largest appellation consisting of 96 winemaking villages and includes everyday wines, such as the infamous Beaujolais Nouveau, the only wine drinkable right after fermentation.
> Beaujolais Villages includes 38 villages that strive to produce a wine superior to “ordinary” Beaujolais. Opimian’s La Vauxonne in this Offering is a case in point.
> There are ten Cru Beaujolais villages that produce bolder wines, each with distinctive characteristics.
In addition, Beaujolais Blanc is made from Chardonnay and is not often available in Canada. More’s the pity because it has a lovely, crisp, apple flavour, and in the case of Opimian’s L’Or des Pierres, pretty lime and lemon overtones as well.
Beaujolais, a simple, fruity wine with limited aging potential, is surprisingly tricky to make. It is fermented in three layers. The bottom 10% to 30% of the fermentation vat contains bunches of grapes that are crushed by the grapes above. The middle holds bunches of grapes that are beginning to split. At the top are whole grapes, bathed in carbon dioxide from the crushed and split grapes below. Because of this carbonic maceration, each whole grape enjoys its own micro-vinification, resulting in the cherry, raspberry, plum and sometimes minute tropical banana flavours that are so much fun to drink.
75% of all Gamay wines come from Beaujolais, but other cool-climate areas like Niagara and the Okanagan Valley, Oregon, Switzerland and New Zealand are also producing nice examples. New World Gamay tends to be a little less earthy than Beaujolais, but because of Gamay wines’ high acidity and low tannins, they are all fabulous food wines. Try them with poultry, pork, tuna, salmon, roasted fish, seafood, rich vegetable dishes and even spinach salad. I can’t wait for my delicious Beaujolais rouge and blanc to arrive. Santé!