The gamay craze has sure captured the attention of wine scribes and hipster winelists of late. And some of this is deservedly so given the price of burgundy these days and the tendency of the best cru Beaujolais to resemble their pinot noir brethren, both in style and price. (It also might have to do with the increasing investment of Burgundy’s wineries in Beaujolais as well.) Much of the heightened promotion of gamay also comes from Beaujolais’s use of natural wine production techniques that are increasingly part of the region’s winemaking regimen.
It’s interesting to note that the domination of gamay production that Beaujolais enjoys has not been threatened much by wine regions in other countries. Unlike their pinot noir brethren whose global monopoly of production has seen challenges from regions across the globe, gamay the grape is pretty much entirely associated with Beaujolais the region.
A long time long ago, a retired banker by the name of Charles Shaw imported some of the more authentic gamay noir au jus blanc in his attempt to make a serious gamay in Napa Valley. It was quite tasty and a good representation of the varietal for those who appreciated the grape back then but the real stuff in California today is a rare find. A look at winesearcher yields less than a dozen producers and the grape is clearly less important (36 tons picked in California 2016) than its brother, the mal-named “Napa gamay” (1700 tons in 2016) which is actually valdiguié. Amazingly, there are 20 producers in Oregon, enough that a gamay festival is scheduled very soon.
So whats with these upstarts in the southern hemisphere producing a gamay that is actually appearing on the shelves and winelists in the US market? Yes, New Zealand, and Australia for that matter, are cranking out some serious examples of the grape. Yes, there are about 7.3 hectares of gamay in NZ with only two wineries of note so were not talking much but something is obviously brewing down there. (Australia has over 25 producers planted in all types of growing regions across the country).
The gamay producers of New Zealand and Australia producers are not just glamming on to the latest trends (though many are known to do so). The grape has a history that extends some 20+ years in both countries, just another example of how many interesting wines from both regions we don’t encounter from our perch in the States.
Te Mata’s Gamay Noir has a lengthy pedigree with the vines planted in hills north of Napier. The grapes were brought over from France by the Buck family back in 1995. The wine seems to have had a bit of a low profile in the past, I don’t recall tasting it until the last few years when it seemed to appear out of nowhere and announced itself as ready for the spotlight.
And ready it is with a bright ruby red color, and a light-bodied, zesty red fruit core that’s supported with crunchy acids. It’s the kind of wine that gives you the impression that a waxed mustache and a tattoo sleeve will appear once you’ve ingested it, it’s that good… and hip… The 2016 reflects the vintage with its’ more elegant weight while the 2015, a wine that can still be found in market, will exhibit a bit more concentration with spice notes and deeper red fruit flavors on the backpalate. The fresh crispness remains as will the ‘stache, the ‘tats and the great value. The list price is under $20.
As a point of reference, New Zealand’s other gamay comes from Central Otago’s Rippon Vineyard and is worth the search if you can find it (it is one of the first wines to sell out each year and is not in the States as of yet). Nick Mills’ version of gamay is as one might expect since it is made in an unabashedly natural way. These are old vines as well, planted some 25 years ago. Not sure if there’s a shared story with Te Mata but worth investigating. A classic Rippon gamay is powerful and concentrated with savoury textures surrounding a core of bright red fruits, a revealing contrast with the Te Mata. This version is what more naturally made gamays should aspire for with its clarity and precision.
Now about those Aussie gamays…