Gamay Grape Characteristics

Gamay is a black grape variety that typically produces dry and red fruit forward red wine. It is most well known as being the signature grape variety grown within the Beaujolais region of France.

This grape variety is known to ripen early and produce high yields, thus it does quite well in both moderate and cool climate wine growing regions.

Most moderate-climate Gamay is light-bodied, with elevated acidity and little to no tannin structure. This makes Gamay varietal wines exceptionally easy to drink, yet at the same time it makes them poor candidates for bottle aging. The majority of Gamay wines should be consumed as soon as possible in order to get the best flavor and freshness out of the bottle.

Crafting and Growing Gamay Wine

Gamey Wine Taste | Gamay Grape Variety Information
Infographic discussion the process of carbonic maceration and wine making with the Gamay grape in Beaujolais. Image courtesy Enoflyz Wine Blog.

Gamay has been grown in a number of fashions since ancient Roman times around Central France. Today, wine making processes have advanced to the point where we feel we’ve discovered how best to help Gamay reach its optimal flavor potential.

Beaujolais Nouveau and Gamay Wine Grape Guide | Winetraveler.com
An example of a brand new Beaujolais Nouveau Wine from the 2015 vintage. Released on the Third Thursday of November.

In important growing regions such as Beaujolais, soils consist of large concentrations of granite, schist and limestone rock. In this type of soil, the already-naturally acidic grape becomes even more intensely acidic thanks to the level of alkaline within the soil. Thus, carbonic maceration and fermentation is almost always employed which aids in reducing the perception of acidity in the final product.

To begin the process, grapes are hand-harvested to preserve the bunches and ensure that the skins are not broken, which occurs frequently with mechanized harvesting.

Whole grapes are then added to stainless steel or cement vats, where they are then sealed and pumped with additional carbon dioxide. Under the weight of gravity, the grapes at the bottom of the container are systematically crushed, releasing additional carbon dioxide and natural yeast. The remaining 2/3’s of the mixture ultimately ferments with little contact to the grape skins, ensuring that the final product has minimal tannic content (making it easier to drink). In addition, carbonic maceration helps ease the noticibility of the acidic side of the Gamay grape.

Worth noting is that a number of Beaujolais Crus have begun to implement more traditional Burgundian styles of wine making in an effort to add more complexity to what is typically an easy drinking, young red wine. Premium producers are now incorporating more oak aging which is helping to extend the life and flavor of these wines. At the same time, they’re becoming more reminiscent of Red Burgundy wines, which are typically made with Pinot Noir.

Gamay Wine Calories and Alcohol Content

As a red wine, Gamay is about as low as you can go in terms of calories. Your typical 5 ounce pour of Beaujolais Nouveau (Gamay) will run you about 114 calories, though this can vary by a 10 point margin. Slightly older and or oak-aged wines, or those made by Beaujolais Cru producers could be up to 130 calories per 5 ounce pour.

In terms of Gamay alcohol levels (otherwise known as ABV), you can typically expect between 10.5% — 12.5% ABV, though some New World wine making practices may exceed this.

Additional images courtesy Wan Fiore Project and Tiny Farm House.

What dDes Gamay Wine Taste Like?

Fruit

Red Fruit

  • Cherry, Red Currant, Raspberry, Cranberry

Earth & Mineral Notes

Underbrush, Light Black Pepper, Limestone, Schist

Additional Complexities

Floral, Dried Carnation, Cinnamon

Structure & Body

Body Light

Sugar Dry

Tannins Medium-Minus

Acid High

Alcohol Medium (10.5% - 13% ABV)

Finish Medium-Short

Swordfish Kabobs with Balsamic Glaze

Being the softly tannic and refreshingly acidic red that it is, Gamay based wine can be some of the easiest to pair with food. It is considered to be one of the "safe wines" by many wine professionals when it comes to food pairing. Think fatty fish such as salmon, arctic char and swordfish. Or, poultry such as turkey and chicken.

Baked Buffalo Chicken Wraps

Grilled Chicken Tacos with Cumin, Black Pepper & Onion

Pan Seared Veal Chop with Rosemary

Grilled Swordfish Skewers with Coconut, Key lime and Green Chile Sauce

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