Food & Wine Photo Credit: Western Living

Spirit Guide: Gamay Changer

With Thanksgiving wine selections just around the corner it’s time to revisit the much-maligned grape..

Beaujolais may be the best-known, least understood wine in the world. It has a name recognition that any region in Canada would kill for, but not always for the best reasons. Its notoriety (and lack thereof) was earned in part because the Beaujolais Nouveau phenomena burned so brightly and faded so quickly in the ’80s, and partly because, in the years since, North American consumers have become obsessed with knowing grape varietals and Beaujolais’s grape—gamay—has never gained any real traction anywhere else.

But it’s a grape that’s worth knowing for a few reasons. For starters, the quality coming out of Beaujolais these days is truly astounding, with both the Villages-level wines (they say Beaujolais-Villages on the label) and the pricier Cru wines (there are 10 crus—we see Morgon, Brouilly and Moulin-à-Vent most frequently) forming some of the best values in all of vindom. The other reason is that the grape grows wonderfully in the Okanagan, and as our wineries here continue to search for a ”signature“ varietal they’d be wise to give gamay—or gamay noir, as so many of them insist on calling it—some serious consideration.

WL1013.gamay-changer-wine

But it’s a grape that’s worth knowing for a few reasons. For starters, the quality coming out of Beaujolais these days is truly astounding, with both the Villages-level wines (they say Beaujolais-Villages on the label) and the pricier Cru wines (there are 10 crus—we see Morgon, Brouilly and Moulin-à-Vent most frequently) forming some of the best values in all of vindom. The other reason is that the grape grows wonderfully in the Okanagan, and as our wineries here continue to search for a ”signature“ varietal they’d be wise to give gamay—or gamay noir, as so many of them insist on calling it—some serious consideration.

The hallmarks of wine made from gamay are freshness and acidity which, to be fair, are two traits that no one would use to build a wine empire in these shiraz-y times. Most mass-consumed red wine is jammy and rich—the opposite of what we’re dealing with here. To boot, the wine is light in colour and low in alcohol, both sins in today’s fruit-bomb climate. But there are a growing number of drinkers who are warming to the grape’s unique charms. Chief among these are sommeliers who seem en masse obsessed with Cru Beaujolais. They love how the grape works wonders with food and, at its highest level, approximates a mid-level Burgundy, Beaujolais’s privileged northern neighbour, at a quarter of the price. Louis Jadot, the famed Burgundy producer, is also one of the best, most consistent major producers of Beaujolais out there, and his 1. 2009 Moulin-à-Vent Château des Jacques ($40) shows the grape at its highest calling (and Villages Combe aux Jacques [$20] at its best value).

In the Okanagan, we likewise have a split between the old guard who plants gamay because it’s relatively easy and abundant, and those who have a passion for the grape’s quirks. The former put out wine that is the definition of thin and reedy. The latter include Michael Dinn and Heidi Noble at JoieFarm, whose 2. PTG ($24)—short for passe-tout-grains—resurrects the old Burgundian tradition of blending gamay and pinot noir to make a wine that’s not quite either in a good way, with more body and spice than a typical gamay. Also leading the gamay charge are David Scholefield and Michael Bartier, who make what may be the Okanagan’s best gamay at 3. Haywire ($25), all raspberry and pepper. And their BS Rose ($19) is also 100-percent gamay and is all strawberry and freshness.

 

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