noir is the primary black grape of France's
Beaujolais region, where the wines are typically
fermented quickly, spared from aging, and consumed young
in order to appreciate their fresh, fruity qualities,
with more tang than tannin.
Like its regional "sibling" chardonnay, gamay noir was proven through DNA testing to be a cross between pinot blanc and an obscure, ancient, and nearly extinct variety called gouais
blanc, which Roman Emperor Probus (b 232 AD - d 282 AD) probably brought from his Croatian homeland to Bourgogne.
In 1395, the
Duke of Burgundy, Phillip the Bold, ordered
Gamay vineyards to be torn out and banned the
variety evermore from being planted in the
vineyards of Burgundy, so that it would not
compete with Pinot Noir. Although this decree
nearly eradicated Gamay altogether, it found a
new home to the south in Beaujolais.
The name is so
closely associated with Beaujolais, that many
vineyard plantings and wines, in California
especially, were incorrectly identified as the
variety "Gamay Beaujolais" for many years (an
practice after 2007). Gamay is also planted, but
is less significant, in the Loire, Rhône,
Jura and Savoie appellations of France.
noir vines grow with moderate vigor in many soil
types, it seems partial to granite and limestone
soils. Gamay can be quite productive, averaging
five to seven tons per acre. Heavy crop loads
may slow growth to below average, as well as
reduce fruit quality, so crop thinning is often
used to control this tendency.
its annual cycle early as grapes go, budding and
flowering early and, although it may become victim
to early Spring frosts, gamay sometimes sprouts additional buds later to bear more fruit. Ripening is usually
early to mid-season. Both the clusters and juicy
oval-shaped berries of gamay noir are large, making it a
relatively easy variety to pick, with relatively
thin but tough skins. The true full name of this
grape is Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc;
there are, however, some clones of
teinturier gamays, with colored rather
than clear juice.
light in color with hue that usually is more
blue-purple than red, wines made from gamay noir
can be very fragrant, full of fruit and fresh,
floral esters. Frequently tart in their youth,
wines made from gamay noir tend nonetheless to
be short lived. Like its distant cousins, Pinot
Noir and Chardonnay, Gamay tends to easily lose
its varietal aroma and flavor identity when
blended with another grape variety. Both red
wines and rosés are typically produced
from unblended gamay noir.
The technique of carbonic
maceration is quite often used to enhance the fruitiness
of this grape. The fruit is placed whole, uncrushed, in the
fermenting vessel and the fermentation begins within the individual
berries, trapping the forming bubbles of carbon dioxide until
the grape bursts. The resulting wine has a lighter, yet brighter
color and a much fruitier
aroma, compared to standard red wine fermentation techniques, often accompanied by a slight petillance or "tickle". When grapes are not overripe and the fermentation temperature is kept cool, an ester called isoamyl acetate forms and permeates the aroma, resulting in a distinct "banana", "candy", or "bubblegum" character.
Gamay Noir Smell and/or Flavor
depends upon individual tasting ability and experience
and is also affected by terroir and seasonal conditions,
as well as viticultural and enological techniques.
This list therefore is
merely suggestive and neither comprehensive nor exclusive.
Fruit: cherry, strawberry, raspberry
Maceration: banana, bubblegum,
cotton candy (spun sugar)
Floral: violet, rose petal
(light): (atypical) vanilla, coconut
Beaujolais Nouveau has declined in worldwide popularity and sales have fallen steadily, with the exception of Japan, which consumes about 20% of each vintage. The French consumes most of "proper" Beaujolais themselves and many vignerons of the region see the Nouveau style as a passing fad that threatens the region by confusing the consumer, much as serious Zinfandel producers feel toward White Zinfandel.
There is relatively little
gamay noir planted in California, even less than was thought
to exist only a few years ago, because many vineyards, once
thought to be planted with gamay noir, were positively identified
by DNA "fingerprinting" as valdiguié in the
1990s. American Charles Shaw, a Beaujolais enthusiast, imported authentic gamay noir cuttings in the late 1970s and planted two acres in Napa Valley.
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2. Steven Spurrier & Michel Dovaz, Academie du Vin, Complete Wine Course (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York) 1983
3. Charles Sullivan, A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1998
4. Benjamin Lewin, Wine Myths and Reality, (Vendage Press: Dover, DE) 2010
5. Jancis Robinson (ed), Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes, (Oxford University Press: New York) 1996
6. L. Peter Christensen, Nick K. Dokoozlian, M. Andrew Walker, James A Wolpert, et all. Wine Grape Varieties in California (University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources Publications: Oakland) 2003