The variety Gamay, or more correctly Gamay Noir, or even Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc*, is an old Burgundian variety that sheepishly knocks on the door of nobility. Sadly for Gamay its rather ‘confectionary’ treatment in the mid to late 1900’s in the form of Beaujolais Nouveau may have tarnished its image irretrievably. While it might lack the very fine bone structure of noble varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, it certainly has a unique sophistication through its ability to magnify terrior and make wines of marvellous fleshiness and fruit flavour detail. Interestingly, Gamay is a sibling of the utmost noble, Chardonnay. Their parents were Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, not that genetic recombination counts for much - there are at least 18 other underachieving siblings, and only one other reasonably competent one, Aligoté.
You have to feel sorry for Gamay. Prior to the last century it experienced even greater knocks. On the 31st of July 1395 some absolute wanker called Duc Philippe le Hardi (or Philip II the Bold) issued the following ban** (When reading this, picture John Cleese’s character of a French soldier taunting the ‘silly English k-nig-hts’ of the round table in ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’
‘...A very bad and disloyal variety called Gaamez, from which comes abundant quantities of wine… And this wine of Gaamez is of such a kind that it is very harmful to human creatures, so much so that many people who had it in the past were infested by serious diseases, as we’ve heard; because said wine from said plant of said nature is full of significant and horrible bitterness. For this reason we solidly command you… all who have said vines of said Gaamez to cut them down or have them cut down, wherever they may be in our country, within five months.’
Right’o Philip. Thankfully some brighter sparks in Beaujolais (an AOC between Macon and Lyon) understood the grape’s merits and persisted. There are a handful of producers there who make serious Gamay wines rather than the bubble gummy plonk that made the region popular in the 60’s and 70’s. Château Thivin, Jean Foillard, Mee Goddard and Domaine De La Merize are a few worth trying, however my favourite is Daniel Bouland.
There are 10 cru’s of Beaujolais: Chiroubles, Saint-Amour, Fleurie, Régnié, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Juliénas, Chénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent. Daniel Bouland has a miniscule 7 hectares to work with amongst some of these cru and my particular favourite is his Morgon lieux-dits of ‘Corcelette - Vieilles Vignes’ - the 2019 and 2020 vintages both being great examples. The wine retails around $50 which makes it exceptional value for what I think is the pinnacle example of Gamay, and particularly great value considering its scarcity.
In the wine you will experience gorgeous fleshy-pulpy textured fruits, currants, boysenberries, and minerals with the faintest whiff of smoke. There are floral aromatics and a little peppery spice too. You can push the powdery tannins around in your mouth - it feels like chewing on the fruit itself. It is just so vigorously fresh and juicy yet deeply nuanced in fruit flavour. As it lingers it reveals more of its mineral layers and its persistence is quite unexpected. Corcelette’s bushy shaped vines have been rooted in granitic sand (‘sable’) for 70 odd years and it seems as though you can taste this directly.
All Bouland’s wines share the same fleshiness and intensity and at best will age for 5-10 years but the energy in their youth shouldn’t be sacrificed to cellaring in my opinion. While Bouland uses whole bunches in his fermentations, it is pleasant to see there isn’t the usual vegetal whiff that can afflict wines made this way, just loads and loads of ripe fruit. I would suggest buying a few of his wines from the various lieux-dits he works with and trying them alongside one another as a great exercise in understanding terrior. His winemaking and viticulture are so consistent that you get an explicit picture of each site rather than a winemaker’s paint brushing of it. Duc Phillipe le Hardi will turn in his grave***.
Distributed by Bibendum Wines.
*To separate it from the bizarre not-just-black-skinned-but-also-red-fleshed Gamay Teinturier de Bouze and its subsequent mutation Gamay Teinturier de Chaudenay which are both permitted in the Beaujolais AOC under 10% in the blend.
** Attempts to ban Gamay plantings were made several times after Duc Philippe le Knobhead’s original ban in 1567, 1725 and 1731. Apart from being a Gamay abolitionist, Philip boldly appointed himself regent after the betrayal of Charles VI. The story goes: Charles, infuriated at an assassination attempt upon himself by a man called Pierre de Craon (commissioned by the Duke of Brittany) went to hunt him down with a party, Philip included. Someone had followed them and tried to warn Charles it was a plot to depose him. He flipped out and killed a few of his own knights, he was detained and in the same moment Philip appointed himself regent and ruler of France. Dog move.
***What’s left of him. He was eviscerated after death before embalming and entombing in a lead coffin. His organs were sent to the church of Saint Martin in Halle and the main bit of him was left in the choir of the Chartreuse de Champmol. You might say he has not RIP’d; he has been moved several times after that. That’s what you get for hating on Gamay.