Gamay Noir, known for its expressive, fruity flavor and delicate tannins, is much more than a red wine to serve at Thanksgiving. Indeed, it’s a complex and delicious wine that is versatile for countless food pairings.
In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into Gamay Noir, its growing regions, some labeling terms, tasting notes, and of course, plenty of food pairings.
Characteristics of Gamay Noir
Gamay Noir, or Gamay, is a red wine primarily grown in the Beaujolais region of France, just south of Burgundy. Here it is also known simply as Beaujolais, as it is the only grape permitted in this region. Its parent grapes are Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, making it a sibling to Chardonnay.
Gamay is notorious for being essentially a white wine disguised as a red wine. That is, it’s incredibly low in tannins and has vibrant fruity flavors more akin to a white or rosé wine.
Beaujolais is the only major growing region for the Gamay Noir grape, though other smaller regions, such as Switzerland and Oregon, do have some plantings. This is partly due to Beaujolais’ success with the region’s cool climate and granite soil.
In general, you can expect Gamay to have expressive, deeply fruity flavors of black cherry, black raspberry, roses, violets, and banana or bubblegum.
Gamay Noir is a dry red wine that is low in tannins. In fact, it’s the lowest tannin red wine in the world. It’s also light in body, with medium-high acidity and low alcohol, usually around 11-13%.
Flavor profiles will vary depending on the region where the wine is made and the winemaking methods used. Beaujolais can be broken down into three categories, each with varying quality and price levels. We’ll get into those differences down below.
In general, Gamay flavors range from bright red fruit, floral, and bubblegum flavors to more complex flavors of berries, white pepper, and rose petals.
Most traditional winemakers in the Beaujolais region use a winemaking method called carbonic maceration. This practice helps maintain the fruity flavor of delicate red wines such as Gamay Noir and, to a lesser extent Pinot Noir.
As fermentation continues, carbon dioxide builds up and causes the rest of the grapes to burst from the inside out. This is a more “delicate” way of fermenting the grapes since they aren’t being crushed by mechanical or physical means but rather by bursting under pressure.
Once the fermentation is complete, these wines are aged in either stainless or relatively new oak for several months before being bottled and sold.
How to Serve
Gamay Noir is best served just slightly chilled, around 60°F. Just 15 minutes or so in the fridge should be enough to preserve the wine’s delicate fruity flavors while not undermining its more complicated spicy notes.
It is best to serve this wine in a Pinot glass to allow the buildup of aromas and fruity flavor. Alternatively, a standard red wine glass will work just fine. Decanting is not necessary.
Beaujolais Labeling Terms
Beaujolais wines can be broken down into three categories, each indicating the quality of the vineyards, the quality of the soil, and the price. Here’s a quick breakdown of some terms to know.
This region includes accounts for about 50% of all wines made in this region. This basic labeling term indicates that wines are grown in less distinguished vineyards with more fertile soil as opposed to granite. As a result, wines here tend to be simpler and less concentrated.
About 25% of wines are labeled as Beaujolais-Village, indicating a notch up in quality. These wines come from more notable vineyards and have poor soil, which makes for lower-yield grapes with more concentrated flavor.
The crème de la crème, 25% of wines made in Beaujolais come from Beaujolais Cru villages. There are only ten approved villages in this region, and these wines tend to be priced accordingly.
Cru wines are richer in flavor, dense, and more expressive than other regions. These wines are also more age-worthy due to their complexity.
While not a region, the Beaujolais Nouveau is an important example of Gamay Noir as it accounts for about 50% of all Beaujolais wine.
Beaujolais Noveau is a normal wine made in the less-premiere village of Beaujolais, but what makes these wines unique is the date they are released. The third Thursday in November is the required release date for all Beaujolais Nouveau wines.
Because of the novelty surrounding this wine, many wine critics and bottle shop owners quite literally embark on a “race around the world” to taste these wines first.
Unfortunately, due to the increased demand, the quality of this style of wine is quite low. In addition, strict release dates mean these wines are often harvested before the grapes are fully ripened, and they aren’t aged for long. In fact, they’re usually aged for just two weeks before being bottled.
With flavors reminiscent of bubblegum and banana, it is by no means an example of the best Gamay Noir.
Gamay Noir Food Pairings
Because Gamay Noir has much of the same fruity flavor and crisp texture as a white or rosé wine, it’s the ideal pairing partner for a variety of courses.
From fresh seafood to herb-roasted chicken and aged cheese, consider Gamay the perfect pairing wine for lighter cuisines with a flavor too potent for a delicate white wine. Try serving it alongside our Roasted Cornish Game Hens or Pistachio Crusted Salmon.
Skip the richly seasoned and hearty dishes like prime rib and barbeque, as these will easily overpower the wine.