Gamay Days: David Lawrason picks nine of his favourite gamays, from France to Niagara
Gamay is often known as the grape that makes lowly beaujolais nouveau, the gassy juice that’s sold only weeks after the grapes are picked. However, top-notch gamay can be silky, fruity and rich, yet light—the perfect red for late-summer evenings. The best ones in the world come from 10 cru villages strung out along the slopes of Beaujolais, where 99 per cent of the vineyards are devoted to gamay. The 2009 and 2010 vintages from these appellations are excellent, and the LCBO has released some great buys under $20 at Vintages. Here in Ontario, winemakers plant gamay because it ripens early and ought to be a winner in our short growing season. In a tasting of gamays from Beaujolais, Niagara and Prince Edward County, however, I found our local editions were thin and joyless by comparison, likely due to cooler temperatures. The trick to buying good Ontario gamay, then, is finding a hot vintage; luckily, 2010 was warm and long, and it’s on LCBO shelves now. Here are my favourites, from France to Niagara.
$13 | Niagara Peninsula | 87 points
With years of experience making lighter reds in Ontario and Australia, Philip Dowell is one winemaker who knows how to capture the simple joy of Gamay. This one has a pretty peony nose with strawberry-cherry fruit. It’s light, silky and smooth, with just enough tart berry acidity and a touch of minerality on the finish. LCBO 107714
$20 | Prince Edward County | 87 points
Winemaker Paul Battilana has crafted a fetching sparkler made from Gamay grown at Casa-Dea, then fermented into bubbliness at Hinterland, a nearby winery specializing in sparklers. This one is bright with a gentle strawberry jam nose. It’s dry and fresh with minerality. Winery only. casadeaestates.com
$15 | Niagara Peninsula | 88 points
Ontario’s 2010 vintage lowered acidity and boosted fruit sweetness. Winemaker Angelo Pavan has captured that ripeness with a complex, peppery red featuring woodsy notes and raspberry-cherry fruit, with a hint of cola. It’s mid-weight, soft and a touch sweet and warm. LCBO 228569
$18 | Beaujolais | 89 points
Morgon is a cru village that produces a firm, earthy and age-worthy style of Beaujolais. This one is deep purple with a lifted, savoury nose of plums, pepper and spice and a meaty note of pastrami. It’s medium-full bodied and powerful, with minerality from Morgon’s stony soils. Age it for five years. Vintages. LCBO 268052
$17 | Beaujolais | 90 points
Juliénas was planted by the Romans and is believed to be named after Julius Caesar. Its Gamays are known for florality, and this one is spot-on, with a nose of violets and rose, plus plum-cherry fruit and a woodsy undertone of dried herbs. Medium bodied, smooth and refined. Vintages. LCBO 112532
$13 | Beaujolais | 86 points
Georges Duboeuf is the most famous name in Beaujolais, capturing Gamay’s fruity exuberance. The grapes for this one are sourced from among 38 villages. It sports a mild, fresh nose of strawberry and red plum, with a background of fresh dirt. It’s lightweight, with a sour-edged finish. LCBO 122077
$16 | Beaujolais | 88 points
Jadot is one of the few leading Burgundy houses that respects Gamay, with dozens of bottlings from Beaujolais. This is one of the most popular reds at Vintages, delivering fresh, plummy, candied strawberry fruit with floral notes. It’s medium bodied and smooth, with a dry, earthy finish. Vintages. LCBO 365924
$18 | Niagara Peninsula | 89 points
Malivoire leads Niagara in Gamay, consistently capturing the spirit of classic Beaujolais. This smooth red is loaded with sweet strawberry-cherry jam flavours and typical Gamay pepperiness. It’s light bodied, luscious and refined, with herbal tea notes. Vintages. LCBO 591313
$16 | Beaujolais | 89 points
The hill of Brouilly, a volcano, is a Beaujolais landmark, and the vineyards around its base are known for making light, charming wines. This silky but fresh ruby-purple wine exudes lifted aromas of peony and raspberry jam. It’s light bodied, pure and lively. Vintages. LCBO 159749
Scores: David Lawrason assigns scores on a 100-point scale. They reflect a wine’s overall quality.
A rating of 95 to 100 is outstanding; 90 to 94 excellent; 85 to 89 very good; 80 to 84 good.