“You and Pinot, sitting in a tree…K-I-S- S-I-N-G!” I know, I know, I love it too. For wine lovers, Pinot Noir is incredibly rewarding and intriguing. With its velvety, silky texture, delicate fruit, vibrant acidity, hedonistic complexity, food versatility, and incredible range, it’s downright sexy. It is also understandable why Pinot is so popular, due to its sheer drinkability. Low in tannin, it pleases most palates, and tastes great year-round. For winemakers, it is a different story. Tannin comes from the skins. Pinot has a very thin skin. This makes it very susceptible to disease and frost, and therefore difficult and more expensive to grow and make. For consumers, it can be very difficult to find a good value; you get what you pay for more than other varietals.
We all know Pinot Noir rocks. It’s easy to like and you can find great ones at most price points nowadays. Why would you stray from it? What could possibly be as delicious? I urge you to give Gamay a try, in the form of Beaujolais. Gamay is a grape, a relative of Pinot Noir, and offers a similar weight and flavor profile, easy-drinking tannin, and bright fruit. Beaujolais is a wine-growing region in France between Burgundy and the Rhone Valley wine regions, and like other European wines, is labeled by the region, and not the grape. So…don’t go looking for “Gamay.” I’ll teach you how to find the right one for you. It won’t be hard to find, since November is THE month for Gamay/ Beaujolais.
Beaujolais Nouveau: Easy to Find, Seasonal, for the New Pinot Lover Beaujolais Nouveau is inexpensive ($15 and under) and made for immediate consumption. The third Thursday of November has become a world-wide holiday of sorts, appropriately known as “Beaujolais Nouveau Day.” It is the day Beaujolais Nouveau becomes available for sale in most grocery stores and wine retail stores that participate. What do I mean by participate? Stores that carry Beaujolais Nouveau have to order it in advance because it is harvested in August or September of the same year, then made and bottled in time to distribute worldwide. The most recognizable and influential brand is Georges Duboeuf, with the brightly-colored flower label; this is the producer that invented the category of Beaujolais Nouveau. Start here if you are new to red wines, or just want to give Gamay a shot without investing a ton of money. You will get a light, fruity red that is easy to drink, much like an inexpensive Pinot Noir. Drink it within six months of purchase, or risk losing that fun, famous, delicious freshness.
Beaujolais-Villages: Harder to Find, Available Year-Round, for all Pinot Lovers With a “normal” release time, usually the spring after harvest, this category covers a smaller and superior area of the Beaujolais region. More of the vineyard sourcing is from hillsides and therefore better soils for Gamay to produce more complex wines. These are relatively easy to find since the name “Beaujolais- Villages” appears on the label. Pinot Noir usually takes up the lighter red category in retailers and restaurants, so you may have to ask for these wines. The easiest one to find is made by Louis Jadot, a relatively large producer for the Burgundy region. Beaujolais-Villages are made to be drunk within two years of the vintage date for the best fruit flavors, and are slightly more expensive than Nouveau.
Cru Beaujolais: Hardest to Find, Available Year-Round, for the Hard- Core Pinot Lover A step up in quality from Beaujolais-Villages, these wines are also produced from the Gamay grape but hail from even smaller areas within the region. They are labeled the same way: by the specific village. These can be a bit more difficult to find because you need to know the name of the cru, or village. If Beaujolais is on the label anywhere, it will be in very tiny print. There are ten villages to look for: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly. Be prepared to spend a little more money, usually between $25-35. Depending on the village and winery, you can expect different nuances, just like other wines; however, in general, these Gamay offer fuller body and more complexity. Many wineries that produce these superior Gamay are small, family-owned operations. The best options are imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants. Look for this name on the back label for the most consistent producers available in the market. Also look for the famed young Burgundy superstar Vincent Girardin’s new “Domaine de la Chappelle” from Fleurie.
Gamay is a varietal that is quite rewarding to discover and explore. A quick tip: like other light reds, they taste best when you cool them down a bit. Stick the bottle in the fridge for ten to fifteen minutes before drinking for the best balance. Serve (or ask guests to bring) Gamay with your Thanksgiving feast this year. Have a tasting comparing Pinot Noir and Gamay. And come December, don’t be surprised if you hear, “You and Gamay, sitting in a tree…”