Your Guide to Gamay

By , On , In Wine Education

If you’re a wine lover, you probably know Pinot Noir. It’s a dear, versatile friend that pairs well with just about anything. It’s classy, yet approachable; tricky to grow, yet found all over. But have you heard about its cousin, Gamay Noir?   

Gamay isn’t new to the wine industry, but it’s gaining modern-day popularity. And, if you like wine, it’s highly worth an introduction. 

Closeup of Heaven's Gate Winery's Gamay collection, with bottles including Gamay Noir and Gamay Nouveau
Heaven’s Gate Winery Gamay Collection

In this article, we’ll discuss what makes Gamay so unique. We’ll outline the similarities and differences between Gamay and Pinot Noir, and cover why Heaven’s Gate Winery is well suited for this variety. Whether you’re after a classic easy-drinking red or something completely different (think hints of bubblegum and strawberry), we’re certain that our Gamay will leave you pleasantly surprised. 

Let’s dive into this noteworthy variety and hopefully convince you to come try it for yourself! 

 

The History of the Gamay Grape

A Misunderstood Past

Gamay is an old grape variety, with production dating back to 14th century France. More formally known as Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc, Gamay had a rocky start when it was decreed “despicable and disloyal” by the Duke of Burgundy who simply didn’t like the taste. This resulted in its exile from the Burgundy region of France, and left room for Pinot Noir to gain its modern day popularity.

Gamay in the Beaujolais Region

Lush green vineyards in the Beaujolais region of France where Gamay grapes are most prominently grown
Vineyards in the Beaujolais region of France, where Gamay wines first gained their popularity

Despite the sentiment of the Duke, the people of Beaujolais in southern Burgundy continued to plant Gamay. It’s initial bad reputation was compounded by winemakers adding sugar to increase the alcohol content. They alsoused artificial yeast to enhance the sweet flavours and speed up fermentation. The goal of the time was cheap, rapid production, which led to lower-quality wines that were traditionally left for the working class.

 

Gamay Making a Comeback

In recent years, Gamay has experienced a dramatic comeback. Winemakers have applied the same methods of Pinot Noir vinification to Gamay grapes, resulting in high-quality reds that more closely resemble the flavours and depth of their pinot cousins. 

Winemakers have also been experimenting with the carbonic maceration method, utilizing the sweet bubblegum and banana flavours to enhance other blends. Much like how sour beers were once discarded as spoiled products and have emerged as consumer favourites, the misunderstood Gamay is finally gaining the global attention it deserves.

 

What’s the Difference Between Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir?

Pinot Noir & Gamay Noir are red grape varieties, known to produce lighter coloured reds that ripen early in the vineyard. They are fruit-forward and pair well with a wide variety of dishes, often containing notes of sweet berries and earthy woods. Flavour profiles can vary greatly depending on the soil, growing conditions, and the processing method. 

The main difference between Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir is that Gamay tends to be more floral in the nose, and can have higher minerality and slightly higher acidity. Gamay also produces larger yields, making for an often more affordable version of its Pinot Noir counterpart. 

Comparing Gamay Noir and Pinot Noir:

Gamay Noir

Pinot Noir

Synonyms Gamay Beaujolais, Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc Pinot Nero, Pinot Negro, Spätburgunder, Blauburgunder
Origin Burgundy (Beaujolais), France  Burgundy, France
Commonly found in France*, Canada, Switzerland, Oregon & New Zealand Best-known in France, Oregon, California; followed by Argentina, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Canada.
Sweetness Dry Dry
Body Light-medium bodied Medium bodied; rich & smooth
Colour Typically a light & bright red (varies greatly) Typically a light & bright red (varies greatly)
Acidity Medium-high Medium
Tannins Low (easy-drinking) Low (easy-drinking)
On the Nose  Floral (peony, iris, violet) Cherry, strawberry, raspberry, ripe tomato, violet, beetroot, mushroom, farmyard
On the Palette  Lighter; red fruits (cherry, raspberry, strawberry, plum) & earthy soil

 

Slightly richer; red fruits  (cherry, raspberry, strawberry), & earthy mushroom
Site-Specific & Unique Notes Carbonic maceration method:  Banana and bubblegum flavours (youthful & juice-like)

Whole-berry maceration method: Pepper, spice, smokey & stone minerality (fuller body, meant for aging)

Farmyard, vanilla, wood, smoke, cigar, leather, spice
Capacity to Age Well Yes (varies) Yes
How to Serve Slightly chilled, goblet glass to showcase aroma Slightly chilled, goblet glass to showcase aroma
In the Vineyard Easier to cultivate than Pinot Noir with higher yields; prefers granite-based soils  Difficult to cultivate & susceptible to rot, mutation and disease (thin-skinned); prefers sandy-loam or clay-type soils
Climate Prefers moderate-cool climates Prefers cool climates
Bottle Cost Traditionally more affordable Traditionally more expensive
Food Pairing Just about anything Chicken, pork, mushrooms, pasta, duck

*about 75% of the world’s Gamay production remains in Beaujolais, in Southern Burgundy. For more information on Gamay, check out Wine Folly’s guide to Gamay wine. 

 

Gamay at Heaven’s Gate Winery

Our Terroir

Birds eye view of Heaven's Gate Winery vineyard with Okanagan lake in the background
Heaven’s Gate Winery in Summerland, BC in a valley overlooking Okanagan Lake

Gamay varieties are known for growing in abundance, but they still require a distinct terroir with the right growing conditions. World-renowned for its wines, the mild climate and mineral-laden soil of the Okanagan Valley meets all the requirements. 

Heaven’s Gate Winery, located in Summerland, BC, is well-positioned on the volcanic soils of Giant’s Head Mountain. Overlooking Okanagan Lake, a cool breeze consistently rolls through the vineyard on warm summer days. This combination makes Heaven’s Gate Winery the ideal location for modern-day Gamay. 

Our Gamays

Gamay is loved for its versatility, and at Heaven’s Gate Winery, we love to experiment. As a small-batch winery, we are constantly testing new batches and techniques. With a passion to develop premium wines, we pay close attention to every detail. Our goal is to consistently produce exceptional, award-winning wines that reflect our local terroir.

Using estate-grown, 100% BC VQA grapes, we bring something truly unique to the Gamay offering. Our most notable products include a classic Gamay Noir and a playful, limited-edition Gamay Nouveau. Our latest experiments have even involved adding Gamay to our Rosé!

Bottle of Heaven's Gate Winery Gamay Noir with turquoise and navy label
Heaven’s Gate Winery Gamay Noir

Gamay Noir

Our estate-grown 2018 Gamay Noir presents a sweet vanilla bouquet and is best served slightly chilled. Made using 100% french oak, it offers wild blackberry and dried cranberry flavours. With layers of smoked earth and freshly roasted coffee beans, this Gamay pairs wonderfully with barbequed pork, salmon and tuna.

Another great pairing for our Gamay Noir is roasted ham, making it the perfect pour for holiday gatherings. For recipe-pairing inspiration from the local Okanagan area, check out The Okanagan Table or Fraiche Food, Full Hearts cookbooks. Like we said before, Gamay goes with just about everything! 

Gamay Nouveau

A playful spin-off of Beaujolais Nouveau, our limited-edition Gamay Nouveau is unlike any other. Using the whole-cluster, carbonic maceration method of processing with natural yeast, we create a carbon-rich environment that develops for two weeks. The result is a youthful, bright red with fruit-forward notes of fresh strawberries and a bubblegum finish. 

Bottle of Heaven's Gate Winery Gamay Noir with bright pink wax seal and label
Limited Edition Heaven’s Gate Winery Gamay Nouveau

With only a small number of cases produced, this limited release doesn’t last long. Every bottle is individually numbered, and its colourful label and wax seal make for a memorable gift.

Email us today to get on the waiting list for our next release, or join our Wine Club today for first access and exclusive deals.

 

Get to Know Gamay

With easy drinkability and a great backstory, this underdog of the wine industry is bringing together the old and the new. There’s a lot more we could say about this variety, but at this point, we think it’s best if Gamay speaks for itself!

Heaven’s Gate Winery is open daily for tastings, with hours dedicated to drop-in visitors and pre-booked appointments. Booking is easy through our online wine tasting booking calendar, and is the best option for enjoying socially-distanced tastings in our quaint log tasting room.

As a family-run winery, we’re passionate about our wines. We love guiding visitors through customized tastings, and know that no matter your wine preference, you’ll find something to love at Heaven’s Gate Winery. 

Come visit us today!