Drinking a Graduating Scale of the Liquid Deliciousness That Is Gamay Noir

The Curve is a new Scout column dedicated to exploring and feeling out the corners of complex, multi-dimensional, often hierarchical and always completely random subjects. The aim is to inform readers – in progressive, graduating fashion – on everything from gin and poems to cheeseburgers and trees. This week, Scout wine editor Treve Ring takes a look Gamay Noir.

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Less is more. The characterful, humble gamay grape is the darling light red of many sommeliers and vintners thanks to its fresh acidity, fragrant fruitiness, fine tannins and lissom structure. Its full name, Gamay Noir à jus Blanc, reflects that its skin is black, its juice is white, but the wine produced is a light bodied red.

Good old gamay is used to being misunderstood however. The grape first appeared in Burgundy in the mid 14 th century, bringing welcome relief to local growers after the bleakness of the Black Death. The friendly grape ripened earlier, yielded higher and was easier to cultivate than finicky pinot noir. Unfortunately, it wasn’t seen as refined as pinot, so in an act to raise the prestige of his region, Duke Philip the Bold banned the grape (Bold move, Duke). ‘No drama gamay’ took hold further south in Beaujolais, as well as to the north, in the Loire Valley, where it continues to thrive in its characterful way today. Here’s how I recommend getting to know it better…

Beginner

Blue Mountain 2015 Gamay Noir | Okanagan Falls, BC | $23
Eight to twenty-six year old vines make up this estate gamay. Warm and generous black raspberry, strawberry and morello cherry fill the juicy palate, one with fine spices to season and finer tannins to frame. Wild yeast fermented, after destemming and a 20 day maceration on the skins this rested in four year old oak barrels for ten months. Has the simplicity for a midweek meal, but the heft and seriousness to make it with roasted chicken.

Intermediate

Domaine des Billards 2015 Saint-Amour | Beaujolais, France | $26.50
All of the welcoming fruitiness and friendly generosity of Cru Saint Amour is on full display here, with wild violets, cherry blossoms, raspberry, red liquorice and a lick of kirsch lining the medium-bodied palate. From the lieu-dit of Les Billards, this is 50-100- year-old, sustainably farmed vines, mid-slope on older alluvial soils: heavy clay over weathered granite. This was on skins for 12 days (under a weighted grill) before up to six months in a mix of older foudres and cement, affording a welcoming textural tannin element to buffer the perfumed and gentle red fruit. A beauty.

Advanced

Orofino Vineyards 2016 Gamay | Similkameen Valley, BC | $23
From two vineyards in Cawston, this was planted in 1999 and 2010 on Stemwinder soils (angular granite shale). Look for dusky savoury spicy cherry, downy raspberry, blackcurrant expressed along a crunchy, salty, stony bed. Acidity is fine and nimble, humming along the lingering finish. A more structured, severe shade of gamay that craves grilled sausages to really sing at this youthful stage, but will settle into its frame well.

Extra Credit

Mathieu & Camille Lapierre 2015 | Beaujolais, France | $40
From the riper 2015 vintage, this still carries the characteristic crunchy acidity and black fruit of the legenadary biodynamic house of Beaujolais. Wild cherry, a whiff of thorns and reduction before heading into black raspberries and granite to a bitter cherry edged finish. Scrubby herbs throughout, this is structured finely, but certainly firmly, à la Morgon. Lovely lingering salted stones and white pepper on the finish. Very low sulphur use, as ever, in 2015, they added minimal sulphur to all the barrels (no N, or Sans Souffe was made).

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