A very old grape variety, Gamay takes its name from a hamlet near Saint-Aubin on the Côte de Beaune. It is nowadays the varietal of choice for the great red wines of the Mâconnais. Gamay also goes into the make-up of Coteaux Bourguignon wines, Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grain, and some Crémant de Bourgogne sparkling wines.
Like Chardonnay and Aligoté, Gamay is a relation of the Pinot Noir grape. And it is an ancient varietal, the first known written mention of it dates back to the 14th century.
In 1395, worried that Gamay would outshine Pinot Noir due to its prolific yield, Philippe the Bold issued a decree banning it from the Duchy of Bourgogne. It was pulled up in the Côte-d’Or, but found a new home in the south of the Bourgogne region and the Beaujolais. These two wine-producing regions have preserved this tradition, since Gamay is at its best on the granite and siliceous sub-soils of the Mâconnais.
More accurately known as “black Gamay with white juice” to differentiate it from the other varieties of Gamay, it is a fairly fertile vine. It produces medium-sized, tight bunches with oval grapes. As they ripen, they take on a bluish, almost black color.
Like Pinot Noir, the juice from Gamay grapes is colorless. The leaves of this varietal can be either full, or have five fairly indistinct lobes.
The color of the red wines from the Mâcon region ranges from a rich garnet to deep ruby. The grape variety often produces a purplish-blue hue.
On the nose, the wines offer a delightful palette of aromas made up of red and black fruit. Certain wines also develop animal and undergrowth notes. After several years in the bottle, these aromas evolve towards notes of prunes and spices.
In the mouth, these are full-fleshed, vibrant wines. They are quite powerful when young, but the tannins soften over time leaving the wines smoother.
Wines made from Gamay make a perfect accompaniment for fine charcuterie and slow-cooked meats like boiled or braised beef, or the subtle flavors of rabbit.