This much-maligned grape variety is having a renaissance, thanks to a group of top Burgundy producers who are investing in vineyards within the top Beaujolais crus.
Gamay is a very old Burgundian grape dating back before the 14th century. It is authorized in almost every region of France apart from Bordeaux, Corsica and Alsace but its true home is Beaujolais and to a lesser extent the Loire Valley. Planted originally for quantity rather than quality, much harm was done to the reputation of Gamay by the trend for Beaujolais Nouveau – young wines, rushed onto the market by November and made by carbonic maceration which gave the taste of bananas or bubble gum to the wine.
Today, smart producers are treating Gamay in the same way as the make their Pinot Noir and getting astonishing results. The wines are often aged in oak and show beautiful pure red fruit characteristics with spice, fine tannins and pepper. Of the ten Beaujolais crus, the two most serious ones – Morgon and Moulin à Vent are rivaling village Burgundies in quality.
As a precocious grape variety, Gamay does well in the Loire where it ripens easily in Touraine. It is also to be found around Lyon further upstream where it is used for a number of lesser-known appellations. Gamay is also planted in Germany, Switzerland, England and Canada. Small amounts are used in New World countries such as the USA, Australia and South Africa.