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Marselan from the Med reaches our shores at last!

Wines made with Marselan, the red grape born on the Mediterranean coast, are making waves as far afield as China. Marselan is a newcomer and it’s well worth keeping an eye out for. It produces deeply coloured, very fragrant wines with rich ripe fruit flavours and soft, supple tannins – you can almost taste the sun kissed grapes in the glass . . .

Marseillan
Marseillan

Marselan is a fairly new discovery for French wine makers. It was first grown in 1961 at the Domaine de Vassal near the town of Marseillan on the Mediterranean coast of France. The Domaine is a research centre and is home to a collection of pre-phylloxera grapes that was created in 1876. The collection is a huge data bank that is used to identify long lost grapes and to create new varieties. Marseillan itself is one of the oldest villages in France, having been founded by the Greco/Phoenicians.and the port is a heritage site. Marselan was bred by the famous ampelographer Paul Truel. It’s a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache and exhibits the virtues of both.

The aim of crossing these two well known grapes was to get a grape variety with the structure and elegance of Cabernet Sauvignon and the colour, robust depth and heat tolerance of Grenache. Marselan’s stand out characteristics in wines are fine, supple tannins and soft mouthfeel; deep colour and medium body. Marselan wines have the potential to age beautifully too.

Marselan grapes
Marselan grapes

Marselan profile:

  • Flavours & aromas – Marselan wines are packed with warm, juicy flavours of black cherry, cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), raspberry jam, dried fruits (fig, prune – and sometimes sultana) with aromatic notes of dark chocolate, black pepper, liquorice and black olive.

  • Style – Typically smooth and well balanced, Marselan wines are wonderfully expressive. Fresh and fragrant with good structure; they can also be quite complex with a multi layered dimension.

Marselan finds fame in First Growth Chateau Lafite Rothschild’s new venture in China

Being a southern grape variety suited to hot, sunny terroirs Marselan tends to be grown in the Languedoc along the Mediterranean coast and the southern Rhone Valley. However this is a grape that has caught the eye of some seriously heavyweight wine makers who are responsible for top flight wines – Marselan is one of the grape varieties being trialled in Bordeaux for future use. What’s more it has recently found fame as one of the grapes planted in First Growth Chateau Lafite Rothschild’s vineyard in China.

The quay at Marseillan
The quay at Marseillan

In 2009 Lafite partnered with Chinese investment group Citic and invested around 12.5 million euros in a new vineyard situated on the easternmost tip of Shandong Province. The Penglai estate stretches over 25 – 30 hectares and the vineyard is surrounded by 9 km of dry stone walls. The grapes planted were the usual Bordeaux varieties as you would expect but the surprise element was the inclusion of both Syrah and Marselan. An interesting development and one that showed good foresight.

Lafite’s new wine is still in the experimental stages; vintages produced so far are not available to the public. Doubtless, Lafite’s new wine is making waves within the industry and once it hits the market interest in Marselan will take another boost. However if you want to try a taste for yourself you don’t have to wait (or pay the high price) for a First Growth Marselan made wine. Although Marselan is a newcomer it has already gained a following in France and this is on the rise. It has found an anchor here in the UK and we introduced our first Marselan blend last month: Les P’tits Galets 2015, Gold Medal. It’s the perfect summer red.

pgm

Tasting notes:

A voluptuous blend of Shiraz (Syrah), Marselan and Merlot from the vignerons of Roquemaure in the Gard. Perfectly balanced with silky tannins. Sumptuous and juicy, oozing with flavours of rich, ripe blackberry, liquorice and black cherry with notes of the garrigue (thyme, rosemary and juniper), spice and mocha. Medium bodied, vibrant and bright with a good finish.

Les P'tits Galets 2015 - Gold Medal £6.79
Les P’tits Galets 2015 – Gold Medal £6.79

Food and wine matching:

Blended with Shiraz (Syrah), the classic red Rhone grape, and Bordeaux’s Merlot; Marselan adds a new dimension, bringing beautifully integrated tannins and flavours. Les P’tits Galets is deliciously moreish and the perfect Summer red wine. It’s good with roast lamb, BBQ spare ribs, chorizo, pork, lentil based dishes, porcini mushrooms and chicken.

Enjoy!

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Making the case for Loire Rose

There are many Rose rivals in France with contenders coming from some surprising quarters. Wine lovers are spoilt for choice when picking the Rose that suits their palate thanks to the recent Rose boom in sales and popularity. Our latest additions to the range are Loire Roses . . . read on to discover why they are winners!

morin anjou
Rose d’Anjou

You’ll start to see a lot more Loire Rose, particularly Rose d’Anjou, being promoted as Spring takes hold. It’s on trend now, with some producers already being awarded wine of the week and Loire wines being advertised as some of the best Roses for the upcoming Summer. Loire Rose has been under the radar for some time but back in the 1970s and 80s Rose d’Anjou was the Loire’s iconic pink wine. It’s popularity was immense at the time with bottles selling like hot cakes here in the UK – a little similar to the fad for Prosecco we see today.

However fashions changed and Rose d’Anjou production began to decline. One of the reasons was a shift away from the traditional grapes used to produce Rose d’Anjou. Wine makers began to introduce Cabernet Franc in an effort to create age worthy, weighty, serious wines that inevitably have proved to cost the consumer more. These grapes are better known, with international reputations for the wines they produce. The AOC Cabernet d’Anjou was created and it gradually eclipsed AOC Rose d’Anjou. The other reason was that a lot of wine was mass produced during the boom and subsequently fell foul of wine critics – especially the influential American critic Robert Parker. The end result was that traditional grapes such as Grolleau were ripped out and vineyards replanted with Cabernets.

loire rose
Madame Morin and her Loire Roses made by her husband Raymond

It’s a shame that Grolleau became branded as a lesser grape for, in the right hands, it has plenty of virtues to its credit. Styles change and grapes fall in and out of favour. Now the demand for pale, delicate Roses is on the up and Grolleau fits the bill quite nicely. Behind the scenes wine makers loyal to their traditional grapes have been quietly upping the quality and improving wine making techniques in an effort to shine once more. It’s worked and some of these wines are quite beautifully made.

Today, a new generation of wine enthusiasts are discovering traditional Loire Roses for themselves and finding them rather good.

Grolleau Hits the Jackpot

Grolleau
Grolleau

Grolleau is a grape that no one seems to have heard of; it’s quite rare now and is only grown in the Loire. It’s a descendant of the long forgotten, ancient Gouais Blanc grape which is also an ancestor of Chardonnay, Riesling and Gamay. Grolleau has blue-black grapes that are juicy and sweet. It produces wines that are light bodied and low in alcohol with a lively vibrancy thanks to its high acidity. This freshness coupled with its signature flavour of strawberry and delicate notes of morello cherry, raspberry, white peach and herbs makes Grolleau perfect for Rose production.

The strange Roman tower at Cinq Mars
The strange Roman tower at Cinq Mars

Grolleau’s name is derived from ‘grolle’ meaning ‘crow’ as the grapes are such a deep black colour they are said to resemble the crow’s feathers. The Grolleau grapevine was first discovered at the foot of a strange Roman tower in Cinq Mars la Pile less than 15 miles from Bourgueil, Vouvray and Chinon. The tower is located at the entrance to the village, overlooking the Loire Valley. It dates from the second century and its role remains a mystery. An archaeological dig in 2005 revealed the remains of buildings and terraces around the enigmatic tower, as well as a statue of a high ranking near-eastern soldier. The village is named after the enigmatic tower (which used to have 5 turrets until one was swept off in a storm in 1751).

lr glass
Loire Rose

No one knows how long ago Grolleau was discovered – some say it was as early as the reign of King Henry IV (1589-1610). A Grolleau vine climbing an old pear tree from this era was said to have given the village 200 litres of wine for over 300 years until it died in 1915. In any case, the local wine makers were delighted to find a grape so suited to their climate that produced light and fruity wines. The grape gained the local nickname ‘Groslot de Cinq Mars’ which translates as ‘Cinq Mars’ Jackpot.’ It certainly seemed as if they had won the jackpot with this grape when Britain and the USA fell in love with Rose d’Anjou!

I think there is a lot to be said in favour of using traditional grapes that are indigenous to the wine regions that birthed them. They are suited to the climate and thrive in that environment. A healthy vine produces healthy grapes which in turn produce better wines. In a skilled wine maker’s hands Grolleau’s own unique characteristics can be brought to the fore and the wines it produces will suit many people looking for a light, refreshing Rose.

My recommended Loire Roses:

Rose d Anjou, Domaine du Landreau, Raymond Morin

rose d'anjou morin bottle
Rose d Anjou, Domaine du Landreau, Raymond Morin, 100% Grolleau

Beautifully delicate, fruity Rose d’Anjou. Finely tuned, fresh and elegant. Gentle flavours of crushed strawberry, raspberry and rosehip with a touch of apple, sweet spice and mint. Light bodied, lively and crisp with a subtle hint of sweetness on the finish.

100% Grolleau. 11.5% abv. 75cl.

Food Matching

Being light bodied and 11.5% this Rose d’Anjou is a perfect aperitif but it also pairs beautifully with starters and light suppers. It’s lovely with scampi, crab cakes and crispy calamari; spicy chicken enchilladas, pizza and pate as well as Chinese cuisine.

Rose de Loire, Domaine du Landreau, Raymond Morin

rose de loire morin
Rose de Loire, Domaine du Landreau, Raymond Morin – Silver Medal. 33% Grolleau

Light, svelte and sophisticated Loire Rose with refined structure and balance. Light bodied, refreshing and very aromatic. Fresh flavours of raspberry, morello cherry and strawberry with notes of rose petals, spearmint and pear. A subtle hint of white pepper and violets on the finish. Supple, fruity and and lively.

33% Cabernet Franc, 33% Grolleau, 33% Gamay. 13% abv. 75cl.

Food Matching

Morin’s Rose de Loire is not only a lovely glass of wine to enjoy on its own but also pairs with appetizers and nibbles; salads (especially Nicoise), quiche, soft cheese (try it with goats cheese!) poultry and fish, white meat pizzas, Mediterranean and Indian cuisine, duck in orange sauce and dark chocolate desserts.

When I found these two lovely wines I fell in love with them and I hope you do too.

Enjoy!

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The Mother of All Malbecs

Malbec World Day falls on 17th April this year and many of you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. It’s a celebration commemorating the day back in 1853 when Malbec was brought to Argentina. Most folks are surprised to learn that despite flourishing there, Malbec isn’t an Argentinian grape . . . it originated in France. If you are a fan of this grape you might like to learn it’s story – and pick up some insider tips on bagging a good bottle or two . . .

Malbec
Malbec

Malbec is a bit of a mystery; legends abound as to its heritage and it’s said to have gained its name from a Hungarian peasant by the name of Malbeck who took the grape to the Medoc in Bordeaux in the early 18th century. However we do know that it originated in France and, thanks to modern science, we also know its parentage.

The Mother of All Malbecs

In 2009, a team of researchers discovered that a long lost grape ‘Magdeleine Noire des Charentes’ was the mother of both Malbec and Merlot. Magdeleine Noire des Charentes was discovered growing in northern Brittany in 1992. Tradition had it that this grape was grown up house fronts and verandas in the Middle Ages as the grapes were eaten for their flavour rather than made into wine. But as the mother of Malbec Magdeleine Noire has turned out to be surprisingly important and further research is underway to discover more about the grape.

Saint Suliac
Saint Suliac

The Magdeleine Noire vine was found growing on the hill Mont Garrot by the banks of the River Rance near the monastery of Saint Suliac. The monastery’s vineyard was known to have existed between 1460 and 1477 but was abandoned more than 200 years ago. After further investigation this grape was found in 4 villages in the Charentes, who called it Magdeleine – probably because of its early ripening on July 22nd, the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene.

It’s unlikely that Malbec originated in the Charentes; it’s a tricky grape to grow and it needs more sun and heat than either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot to mature. It’s more likely that it developed nearer to Cahors as its father is the near extinct Prunelard from neighbouring Gaillac in southern France.

Malbec Migrates

Chateau de Pressac
Chateau de Pressac

Like most offspring once Malbec had found its feet it was off on the move. Wine makers used the rivers of France as a trade routes in the past and cuttings would have been taken up and down stream to various locations throughout France. At one point Malbec was grown in 30 different departments (counties), a legacy that is still present in the abundance of local synonyms for the variety. It is known as Pressac on the Bordelaise Right Bank (Saint Emilion and Pomerol) and Cot in Cahors. Local lore has it that it became known as Pressac after Chateau de Pressac in Saint Emilion introduced it there between 1737 and 1747. Just to throw a spanner in the works there is also a Chateau Pressac in Charentes – the home of Malbec’s mother, Magdeleine Noire and a village called Prayssac in Cahors, the capital of French Malbec production.

In Bordeaux Malbec makes up part of the blend for Clarets. It was once prolific throughout Bordeaux and in 1855 all the Grand Crus Classes all had Malbec in their vineyards, including the Premier Crus. But thanks to the Phylloxera disease that wiped out French vineyards and the Great Frost of 1956 Malbec was badly hit and practically disappeared. The reason for this was that as Malbec is difficult to grow and ripen in Bordeaux’s climate wine makers replanted with Merlot instead of struggling on with trickier Malbec. Over the past decade this has started to change and Malbec has been making a comeback thanks to the spice and colour it gives to blends. If Bordeaux becomes hotter due to climate change, then Malbec would have a chance to ripen more consistently – so you may start to see more Malbec in your Claret in the future.

Where to find Bordeaux Clarets using Malbec

  • The Cotes de Bourg have the highest percentage of Malbec, using more than any other AOC.

  • You can also find petit chateaux scattered throughout the Entre Deux Mers, the Cotes de Blaye and the Right Bank (Pomerol, Fronsac and Saint Emilion) using Malbec.

  • Prestigious chateaux use Malbec as well as smaller producers, notably Premier Cru Chateau Cheval Blanc, Haut Bailly, Coutet, Clerc Milon, Brane Cantenac, L’Enclos, Clos Rene, Gruaud Larose and Domaine de Chevalier.

Cahors
Cahors

Further south in warm Cahors Malbec found its true home. The grape migrated to Cahors much earlier than to Bordeaux. Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II drank Cahors Malbec at their wedding in 1152, Pope John XXII and Peter the Great, Tasr of Russia, chose it for their communion wines, and King François I of France was such a fan he asked Cahors wine makers to create him a vineyard at Fontainebleau. It was from Cahors that Argentina gained its first Malbec vines in 1853.

Chateau de Haut Serre
Chateau de Haut Serre

Although the Cahors vineyards were decimated by Phylloxera and also hit by the Great Frost wine makers successfully replanted their Malbec vines. It was a long struggle but worth it. The ‘black wines’ of Cahors are achieving cult status. There has also been a recent influx of money and ambition into Cahors, from foreigners whether they be from New York or Paris such as the family behind the Cartier empire which is determined to produce in Le Pigeonnier a Cahors worthy of cult prices. But the fact remains that a great deal of Cahors is pretty rustic stuff, often a little thin and animal on the mid-palate.

Where to find Cahors Malbecs

  • The medieval vineyards of Cahors cover 2 key areas:

  • The limestone terraces along the valley of the River Lot: Mercues, Parnac, Prayssac, Grezels, Puy l’Eveque and Vire sur Lot. The terraces produce fruity, rounded Malbecs.

  • The limestone Causses plateau which produces fine wines that are firmer, more tannic wines than the terraces.

  • Malbec producers to watch out for are Clos Triguedina, Chateaux de Chambert, Lamartine, Eugenie, de Haut Serre, du Cedre and Saint Didier Parnac.

Wine regions of Argentina
Wine regions of Argentina

Malbec, the Ex-Pat

Malbec travelled from Cahors to Argentina in 1853 when the agronomist Pouget was tasked with bringing the vine to the country to transform its wine industry. During the 1990s Malbec became Argentina’s star performer and it is now the main producer of Malbec in the world. France has maintained its links with Argentina with Grand Cru Classe owners setting up vineyards there. Caro is a joint venture between Premier Cru Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Nicolas Catena, Catena Zapata, Cheval des Andes is a joint venture between Premier Cru Chateau Cheval Blanc and LVMH’s Terrazas de los Andes. The renowned French oenologist Michel Rolland also produces Yacochuya with the Etchart family.

Where to find Argentinian Malbecs

  • Mendoza is the main Malbec producer in the country, representing 85% of all Malbec vineyards. The Lujan de Cuyo district here was the first Denomination of Origin (DOC) of the Americas. Notable sub regions include the Uco Valley and Tupungato.

  • San Juan is the second largest producer and is hotter and drier than Mendoza. Notable sub regions are Calingasta, Ullum and Zonda.

  • La Rioja was one of the first areas to be planted with vines by Spanish missionaries and has the longest continued history of wine production in Argentina.

  • Southern Patagonia (Neuquén and Río Negro) is cooler and Humberto Canale imported vine cuttings here from Bordeaux, establishing the first commercial winery in the region.

  • Salta includes some of the highest elevated vineyards in the world with many planted over 4,900 feet (1,500 metres).

My recommended Malbec: Domaine du Prince – L’Envoi du Prince, Cahors

Domaine du Prince
Domaine du Prince

L’Envoi du Prince comes from one of the oldest estates in Cahors, Domaine du Prince, owned by the Jouves family. The family have been wine makers since the 1550s and have been at Domaine du Prince for over 300 years; their land and vineyards has passed from father to son since ancient times. Domaine du Prince is perched on the Causses plateau, near the village of Cournou, overlooking the township of Saint Vincent Rive d’Olt in the River Lot Valley. This is considered to be the finest growing areas for Malbec, the grape responsible for the black wine of Cahors.

According to local legend, a family ancestor once delivered wine to the King of France, and perhaps to the Russian Tsar (Cahors wine was a favourite at the Russian court of Peter the Great). Because he met the King in Paris, he was nicknamed ‘The Prince’ by the villagers (lou prince’ in the local dialect). Hence the name of the estate. This nickname is still used today by the old farming families of Cournou and ‘Prince Jouves’ is even recorded in the old tax documents from the era.

Black Wine of Cahors
Black Wine of Cahors

Today, the latest generation of the family, brothers Didier and Bruno, run the estate. Thanks to their heritage and passion for their craft they know the land, and even individual vines, by heart. However they have moved forward, with a focus on expressing the superb characteristics of their terroir and are working on a project with Leonardo Erazo Lynch, Technical Director of Malbec producer Altos Las Hormigas – the premier wine making appellation in Argentina, to showcase the expression of Malbec on various soils in Cahors.

L'Envoi du Prince
L’Envoi du Prince

Tasting Notes

Silky and full of fragrant fruit with mellow tannins. Lush flavours of rich, ripe redcurrant, black raspberry and black cherry with smoky notes of spice, violets and a touch of fennel. Supple and expressive with beautiful balance. Cellaring potential 10 years.

Food Matching

The inky black wines of Cahors are more structured than their Argentinean Malbec counterparts. They are known for their dark brooding potency whereas Argentinean Malbecs tend to be more fruit forward. Being well structured, L’Envoi du Prince is delicious with food; pairing well with duck breast and pheasant, mushroom, tomato and pesto based dishes, lean red meats such as beef and venison and sharp cheeses such as cheddar or parmesan.

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Innovations in Sauvignon blends – Watch out for Viognier

You will find Sauvignon Blanc blended with other white grapes in a myriad of combinations throughout the wine producing countries of the world. Some of the more successful blends have really taken off and even die hard traditionalists are now trying their hand at creating new fusions with this grape. Here’s the latest news on what to watch for if you are a Sauvignon fan . . .

Chateau du Tertre Blanc
Chateau du Tertre Blanc

New Sauvignon blends see Bordeaux Grand Cru Classe break with tradition.

Margaux Fifth Growth Chateau du Tertre is to release a brand new white wine made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay and Gros Manseng. This is a brave, bold move away from the norm with a modern choice of white grapes unusual in Bordeaux. Du Tertre’s choice of grapes is interesting – the addition of Viognier to the blend could signify the start of a trend.

Sauvignon & Chardonnay blends are common in S W France and Sauvignon & Gros Manseng blends have become popular in Gascony over the past decade . . . but Sauvignon & Viognier blends have been quite rare. They are definitely worth watching out for and I’d expect to see more being made in the future.

Viognier grapes
Viognier grapes

Viognier produces wines with an incredible combination of depth and heady fragrance but it is notoriously difficult to grow. It almost became extinct in the 1980s but, thankfully, is now planted throughout France. Its heartland is in the northern Rhone and it’s thought that it was brought here by the Roman Emperor Probus circa 281 AD. Legend has it that Viognier takes its name from the Roman pronunciation of the Via Gehennae, meaning the ‘Road to Hell’ (an allusion to the difficulty of growing the grape).

Alexander van Beek, CEO of Chateau du Tertre and Third Growth Chateau Giscours (both owned by the Jelgersma family) has said: ‘We thought for a decade about making a white wine at Chateau Giscours or Chateau du Tertre. With climate change, it is now possible to produce a white with personality. You just have to have an open mind!’

Chateau du Tertre
Chateau du Tertre

Climate change is not the only factor driving experiments in blending different grape varieties. There are more than a few Bordelaise mavericks who enjoy using long forgotten and/or unusual grape varieties (see my series: Unclassifiable Bordeaux here to learn more about wines that don’t fit Bordeaux AOCs). However it’s rare to see a Grand Cru Classe taking the audacious move to launch a wine made with grapes that are not allowed in Bordeaux AOC bottlings – especially as the finished wine can only be labelled ‘Vin de France’.

  • NB. To bear the label of AOC Bordeaux white wine from the region can only be made from a blend of permitted grapes: Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon being the classic primary Bordeaux blend.

Sauvignon Blanc & Viognier

Sauvignon and Viognier is an unusual blend but we are starting to see it being adopted by master blenders across France. The marriage of the two grapes takes a lot of skill as its a tricky business getting the balance right. Deep and powerful Viognier can easily overwhelm the racy Sauvignon Blanc, neutralising its refreshing qualities. It takes a master blender and cellar master to accomplish a polished blend such as this – it’s a difficult challenge to take on.

Sauvignon Blanc & Viognier
Sauvignon Blanc & Viognier

Recommended Sauvignon Blanc & Viognier: Temps d’M Blanc

60% Viognier, 40% Sauvignon Blanc. 12.5% abv. 75cl.

Produced by master blenders Christophe Rethore and Jean-Michel Davy this is an excellent blend of Sauvignon Blanc & Viognier. The grapes are grown at high altitude (4400 feet) in the Loire Valley. The soil is dry and lies over a bedrock of mica-schists strewed with white quartz on south facing slopes on the hillsides of Mauges. Precision, careful management and vision go into the making of this blend and the finished wine is gently aged in Acacia barrels rather than Oak. The combination of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier in Acacia results in a very clever wine as the Acacia barrels enhance the fruit and citrus flavours in the wine and enrich its aromas.

temps d'm blanc small
Temps d’M Blanc 2014 – Sauvignon Blanc & Viognier

Tasting Notes:

Enticingly aromatic nose, impeccable structure and balance with a medium body. Flavours of apricot, pear and citrus fruits with nuances of water melon, lime blossom and gooseberry. Subtle spicy undertones of spice. Silky, supple and refreshing with wonderful bouquet.

Food Matching:

Temps d’M is a gorgeous wine to enjoy with friends or whilst relaxing alone but it’s also great with poultry and pork, chicken livers, ham and prosciutto, pheasant and guinea fowl as well as squid and grilled fish such as mackerel or sardines. It pairs well with Chinese cuisine using oyster or plum sauce.

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The great grape comeback . . . why you might be grateful for Gamay

If Gamay isn’t on your radar but you enjoy your Pinot Noir you are missing out – for Pinot is Gamay’s parent and this grape might just be your next big discovery. Both hail from Burgundy and both have a similar light bodied style but unlike Burgundy, good Gamay doesn’t have to cost the earth. Fruitier than Pinot; Gamay is the grape behind Beaujolais and, thanks to a huge revival, this once ‘retro’ grape is making a comeback. It’s poised to become a serious contender on the world stage . . .

Gamay's under the spotlights once more
Gamay’s under the spotlights once more

Back into the limelight

Decades ago Gamay found fame with the craze for Beaujolais Nouveau and, like most fads, it was destined to fade away from the spotlight. However, Gamay never quite got to take that final bow and the curtains didn’t drop on its last act. Instead Gamay went on a world tour. Stepping out of the spotlight paid off and the resulting resurgence in interest on developing Gamay’s potential has lead to it finding a new home in the New World wine regions of Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the USA (California and Oregon).

Both Gamay and Pinot Noir make light bodied wines
Both Gamay and Pinot Noir make light bodied wines

In the Old World of Gamay’s native France, it has moved once more into the limelight as passionate producers have pushed the grape to new heights with the best wines coming from the Beaujolais Villages and Cru Beaujolais AOCs. Beyond Gamay’s stronghold in Beaujolais the grape has now found a second home in the Loire.

Today Gamay is full of possibilities, it’s repertoire is growing with variations on its style being developed constantly in different sets of countries.

Gamay’s spreading popularity has also lead to it being being blended in an ever evolving set of wines from across the world with Malbec and Cabernet Franc.

Gamay grapes
Gamay grapes

Gamay’s lineage

Gamay’s full name is ‘Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc’ and it’s thought to have originated in the village of Gamay, south of Beaune in Burgundy. The local names for the grape are ‘Bourguignon Noir’ (Black Burgundy) and ‘Petit Bourguignon’ (Little Burgundy). Gamay’s parents are the black Burgundian grape Pinot Noir and the white Gouais Blanc. Given Gamay’s deep rooted connections with Burgundy it seems strange that this grape found its home in Beaujolais. The reason behind this is down to its success. Gamay is easier to grow than Pinot Noir as it ripens 2 weeks earlier and it produces a stronger, fruitier wine. Back in the 1360s villagers in Burgundy preferred to plant Gamay over Pinot which lead the Duke of Burgundy to outlaw it in 1395. The Duke preferred his Pinot and that was that. Fortunately Gamay was adopted by Beaujolais . . . and the rest is history.

The difference in styles between New World and Old World Gamay

New World Gamay

Gamay's signature flavour is of cherry
Gamay’s signature flavour is of cherry

It’s a little early to put a definitive style on cool climate Gamay from Canada and New Zealand as Gamay is still making its first appearance there. There’s much expectation (and excitement) about what wines will find favour.

  • Flavour profile: In general the wines have less of an earthy undertone than those from France. They are characterised by a light body, gentle tannins, vibrant red cherry flavours, fresh acidity and intense perfume.

Gamay can express roasted fennel seed / fenugreek notes
Gamay can express hints of roasted fennel seed / fenugreek

Gamay didn’t make its debut in California until the 1990s as Napa wine makers had been mistakenly growing Valdigue instead, believing it to be Gamay.

  • Flavour profile: Grown at higher altitudes Californian Gamay is typically light bodied, lively and aromatic with bright, sweet and sour morello cherry flavours lifted by roasted warm spices (fenugreek and fennel seed).

Australian Gamay is also new on the block thanks to the warmer climate not suiting Gamay (which prefers cooler temperatures). However antipodean wine makers have persisted and Gamay growing has developed.

  • Flavour profile: These wines are light bodied and tend to have deeper fruit flavours than their New World cousins of black cherry, crushed strawberry and violets with juicy acidity.

Old World Gamay

Beautifully perfumed, Gamay can show notes of Peony
Beautifully perfumed, Gamay can show notes of Peony

Gamay is Beaujolais’ star and the better wines come from the AOCs Beaujolais Villages and Crus Beaujolais.

Beaujolais Villages AOC tend to vinify their wines in a similar method to neighbouring Burgundy. Wine here are aged briefly in oak barrels which gives an intriguing depth and compexity.

  • Flavour profile: Grown on granite Beaujolais Villages trademarks are vivacious fruit driven wines, light bodied, lively and aromatic with notes of morello cherry, violets, strawberry, raspberry, peony and peach. They can possess savoury and earthy undertones with hints of cinnamon, white pepper and smoke.

Collectively known as the Beaujolais Crus – these are the 10 top Beaujolais Villages that produce deliciously structured wines:

  • Fleurie

    Beaujolais, Gamay's stronghold
    Beaujolais, Gamay’s stronghold
  • Brouilly

  • Chenas

  • Morgon

  • Chiroubles

  • Julienas

  • Cote de Brouilly

  • Moulin a Vent

  • Saint Amour

  • Regnie

Beaujolais Nouveau!
Beaujolais Nouveau!

Beaujolais Nouveau is designed to be drunk young – and it can also be drunk chilled – the French drink it as an aperitif before meals. Each year the Beaujolais Nouveau is released on the third Thursday in November, and not earlier, by decree of the French Government. Just after midnight on the given day a race begins to ship the wine out all around the world as quickly as possible, generating stunts (balloon, elephant and rickshaw races) and excitable headlines.

Beaujolais Nouveau is not fermented in the usual way – carbonic maceration is used. This means that the grapes are fermented without being crushed. The resulting wine is very fruity and low in tannin and can be ready inside 6 weeks.

  • Gamay makes a surprise entrance!
    Gamay makes a surprise entrance!

    Flavour profile: Beaujolais Nouveau is very light bodied and has exuberant fruit flavours of black cherry, crushed strawberry, lilac and violets with zesty acidity. Thanks to the carbonic maceration it also has subtle hints of pear drops (boiled sweets) and occasionally bananas.

The Loire produces fine Gamay wines, particularly in the area around Touraine (it’s also used in Anjou to produce Roses).

  • Flavour profile: Gamay wines from the Loire exhibit thirst-quenching freshness with a good depth of fruit (black cherry, raspberry and peach), light body and earthy, lightly spiced tones. The wines have a more herby note with floral aromas of lavender and rose.

There are some promising Gamay wines coming out of the Loire Valley which beg further investigation. Keep an eye out for them as we are increasing our range at www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk and hope to bring you some pleasant surprises.