Gamay, you are a charmer.
That deceptively simple yet elegant perfume, your lightness of touch, and supple texture. Yes, you went a bit girly during your “nouveau” phase (circa 1980s), but that’s all water under the bridge now. Now you’re all grown up – mature and assured, and that much more attractive.
I know you’ve spread your wings a bit, as far as Italy, the UK and even Australia – but can’t we just settle down in your southerly Burgundian home – Beaujolais?
1. Beaujolais is like an intense masterclass for a single grape variety, and single core wine style
18,000 hectares of Gamay (the majority of the 30,000 hectares grown worldwide) is the only grape variety allowed for quality wines in the whole region. There’s no lack of variety, from fresh and flighty (Beaujolais or Beaujolais Villages) to the more serious wines from the 10 “cru” villages (Morgon or Moulin-à-vent being the most structured and weighty).
2. The vineyards have a Lilliputian charm
Gamay is traditionally grown close to the ground as a tiny, bush trained vine, creating an utterly unique landscape.
3. The wines can age gracefully for decades
Beaujolais can be a little flirtatious or fey in youth, but this doesn’t prevent it being capable of serious, even brooding mature wines. Buy the oldest vintage of Jean Foillard’s divine Cote du Py Morgon you can find, or visit Château des Moriers and ask very nicely if you can try a Fleurie from the 1990s. These are wines that can develop positively Burgundian gravitas as they age.
4. You don’t have to spend a fortune for good wine here
Feel like a half-decent Medoc claret? Or some Premier Cru Pinot action from Burgundy’s Cote d’Or? You’ll be lucky if you see change from £25. But £8- £10 will net you a typical, classy Beaujolais Villages, and £12 – £15 is enough to sample a Cru. (see selections below)
5. Beaujolais is (arguably) the birthplace of the natural wine concept
No, I don’t like the “n” word either. But I do like wine made with the minimum amount of sulphur and manipulation, and this is what Marcel Lapierre and Jules Chauvet set out to do in the 1970s, after becoming disillusioned with the wines they were producing at the time (and apparently, also wanting wines that they could drink in quantity without getting a hangover). The afore-mentioned Jean Foillard is one of a number of talented winemakers who continue this mission.
6. Seriousness and quality that can still be refreshing
You won’t find blockbuster cuvees with mouth-drying tannins and 14.5% alcohol anywhere in Beaujolais. The most structured, durable wines from Moulin-a-vent don’t tend to weigh in at more than 13% alcohol, and basic Beaujolais is often a lunchtime-friendly 12%. Throw them in the fridge for 30 minutes and they’re delicious even on the hottest summer days.
7. Home to one of the cheesiest labels I’ve ever seen
The wine was pretty good though!
A small selection of Beaujolais to hunt down
Chateau Thivin Cote De Brouilly 2007 £13.20 – £18.99
Moulin-a-vent-hospices 2009 £16 (excellent value)
Jean Foillard Cote du Py Morgon 2010 £20 – £23 (expensive but worth it)
Majestic have a decent selection at the lower end (£8 – £12) (I’ve not tried the current vintages)