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Gamay is About So Much More than Beaujolais Nouveau

The famously fruity wine that hits shelves the third Thursday of every November may be its most famous manifestation. Still, Gamay, and Beaujolais in particular, have so much more to offer.

What does Gamay wine taste like?

And what is Gamay? You may hear the wines referred to as Gamay rouge, which is simply French for Gamay red wine, or Gamay Beaujolais. Gamay rosé is also increasingly popular. Gamay is a grape variety that is grown primarily in the Beaujolais region of France, just south of Burgundy, as well as in smaller quantities elsewhere, like California, among other locations. It can be referred to as Gamay wine no matter where it’s grown, but Beaujolais must only come from the Beaujolais region of France. Wines produced from Gamay typically have a pronounced and generous fruit character, usually in the cherry, berry, and grapey end of the spectrum, especially in their youth. However, there are certain parts of Beaujolais in which the Gamay grape—and more specifically, Gamay noir—expresses itself with an unexpected sense of profundity, structure, spice, and aging potential.

Where does Gamay come from?

Gamay is grown in more countries and regions than it often gets credit for, but none of them can compare in fame to its ancestral homeland, which is the Beaujolais region of France, located just south of Burgundy. There, Beaujolais is produced in four distinct styles or quality levels. Beaujolais Nouveau is the inexpensive and “gulpable” first red wine of the year from there, released on the third Thursday of November each year. This was popularized around the world by Georges Duboeuf, whose flower-labeled bottles of Nouveau are by far the most widely known of the style. Wines labeled simply Beaujolais are produced from grapes that are grown throughout the Beaujolais region, and are best enjoyed in the short-term: Say, within a year of purchasing the bottle. Beaujolais-Villages wines are crafted from grapes that have been grown only within a set list of 38 villages whose land and micro-climate are unique enough to provide grapes that result in wines of increased structure and presence on the palate. Finally, the top of the Beaujolais pyramid is reserved for wines called Beaujolais Cru, which aren’t even labeled as Beaujolais but instead are identified by the name of the specific village. Those ten specific places imprint predictably unique characteristics on the wines that are grown there. The names of the crus are, from north to south: Saint-Amour (very popular around Valentine’s Day, seeing as the name means “Saint of Love”), Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly, and Côte de Brouilly. The Beaujolais Crus are generally agreed to produce the best Gamay wine in the world, and many Gamay wine brands do so.

Is Beaujolais Gamay?

Red wine that is labeled as coming from Beaujolais must be produced from the Gamay grape variety, according to French law.

What does Gamay pair with?

Because of its typically delicate tannic structure and generous fruit character, Gamay is a very versatile pairing partner at the table. It can work alongside lighter meat and poultry, does brilliantly with veal, and even frames richer fish like salmon and Arctic char nicely. It’s also a perfect barbecue wine, since it goes toe to toe with sweeter sauces (assume they’re not overly sweet) and dances nicely with smokier flavors. Beaujolais Cru, because of its more assertive character and deeper tannins, does well with richer foods, too, like grilled steak and duck…and hamburgers.

Do you chill Gamay?

As a rule, the lighter-bodied a wine is, the cooler it should be served. Beaujolais Nouveau benefits from 20 or 30 minutes in the fridge, whereas Beaujolais Cru is best with just five or 10 minutes to chill. Like all red wines, however, drinking them at room temperature—70 to 72 degrees—will usually make the fruit flavors taste overripe and stewed, and throw the alcohol out of balance.

How do you pronounce Gamay wine?

Gamay is pronounced gaa-MAY.

Is Gamay sweet?

Like all wines, Gamay can be made in both sweet and dry styles. Generally, Beaujolais Nouveau has a sense of fruity sweetness, though not overtly sugary sweetness. Other Beaujolais wines boast plenty of fruit but are typically produced in a dry style. Still, their more delicate tannins allow that fruit to shine through with real clarity.

Is Beaujolais a Burgundy?

Though some consider Beaujolais to technically be part of Burgundy, it is quite different from a wine perspective, since red wines from Burgundy are produced from Pinot Noir, and red wines from Beaujolais are produced from Gamay. The answer, then, is that Beaujolais is geographically close to Burgundy, and included in Burgundy on some maps, but a unique region from a winemaking perspective.

What food goes well with Beaujolais?

In general, the rules for pairing Gamay from anywhere in the world also apply to Beaujolais. As noted above, Beaujolais is a very versatile pairing partner at the table. It can work alongside lighter meat and poultry, does brilliantly with veal, and even frames richer fish like salmon and Arctic char nicely. It’s also a perfect barbecue wine, since it goes toe to toe with sweeter sauces (assume they’re not overly sweet) and dances nicely with smokier flavors. Beaujolais Cru, because of its more assertive character and deeper tannins, does well with richer foods, too, like grilled steak and duck.

What are popular brands of Beaujolais?

There are many excellent brands of Beaujolais, and from each brand there are often several expressions of Beaujolais worth considering. Among the most popular are Jadot Beaujolais Villages, Domaine Pignard Beaujolais, Doboeuf Beaujolais Villages, Pardon & Fils Beaujolais Villages, Debeaune Morgon Belles Grives, Domaine des Maisons, Chateau des Deuits, Domaine des Versauds, and Domaine Pardon. For something different, also consider Bulgarian Gamza, too, though it’s not technically a Beaujolais since it is not produced there and it’s not Gamay. Still, it’s a delicious option.

Browse our full selection of Gamay online or check out our selection of highly-rated Gamay for a great new Gamay to try this week!