This guide to the Gamay grape variety is part of our wine resource web series. Discover what Gamay tastes like, a background on how the grape is grown and produced along with ideal Gamay food pairings.
Gamay Grape Characteristics
Gamay is a black grape variety that typically produces dry and red fruit forward red wine. It is most well known as being the signature grape variety grown within the Beaujolais region of France.
This grape variety is known to ripen early and produce high yields, thus it does quite well in both moderate and cool climate wine growing regions.
Most moderate-climate Gamay is light-bodied, with elevated acidity and little to no tannin structure. This makes Gamay varietal wines exceptionally easy to drink, yet at the same time it makes them poor candidates for bottle aging. The majority of Gamay wines should be consumed as soon as possible in order to get the best flavor and freshness out of the bottle.
Crafting and Growing Gamay Wine
Gamay has been grown in a number of fashions since ancient Roman times around Central France. Today, wine making processes have advanced to the point where we feel we’ve discovered how best to help Gamay reach its optimal flavor potential.
In important growing regions such as Beaujolais, soils consist of large concentrations of granite, schist and limestone rock. In this type of soil, the already-naturally acidic grape becomes even more intensely acidic thanks to the level of alkaline within the soil. Thus, carbonic maceration and fermentation is almost always employed which aids in reducing the perception of acidity in the final product.
To begin the process, grapes are hand-harvested to preserve the bunches and ensure that the skins are not broken, which occurs frequently with mechanized harvesting.
Whole grapes are then added to stainless steel or cement vats, where they are then sealed and pumped with additional carbon dioxide. Under the weight of gravity, the grapes at the bottom of the container are systematically crushed, releasing additional carbon dioxide and natural yeast. The remaining 2/3’s of the mixture ultimately ferments with little contact to the grape skins, ensuring that the final product has minimal tannic content (making it easier to drink). In addition, carbonic maceration helps ease the noticibility of the acidic side of the Gamay grape.
Worth noting is that a number of Beaujolais Crus have begun to implement more traditional Burgundian styles of wine making in an effort to add more complexity to what is typically an easy drinking, young red wine. Premium producers are now incorporating more oak aging which is helping to extend the life and flavor of these wines. At the same time, they’re becoming more reminiscent of Red Burgundy wines, which are typically made with Pinot Noir.
Gamay Wine Calories and Alcohol Content
As a red wine, Gamay is about as low as you can go in terms of calories. Your typical 5 ounce pour of Beaujolais Nouveau (Gamay) will run you about 114 calories, though this can vary by a 10 point margin. Slightly older and or oak-aged wines, or those made by Beaujolais Cru producers could be up to 130 calories per 5 ounce pour.
In terms of Gamay alcohol levels (otherwise known as ABV), you can typically expect between 10.5% — 12.5% ABV, though some New World wine making practices may exceed this.
What does Gamay Wine Taste Like?
It’s not unlike young Pinot Noir…
Common Flavors and Aromas
- Fruit: Red Fruit
- Cherry, Red Currant, Raspberry, Cranberry
- Earth & Mineral Notes: Underbrush, Light Black Pepper, Limestone, Schist
- Additional Complexities: Dried Carnation, Cinnamon
- Body: Light
- Sugar: Dry
- Tannins: Little to None
- Acid: High
- Alcohol: Medium (10.5%-13% ABV)
- Finish: Medium-Short
- Soil: Granite, Schist, Limestone, Clay, Sandstone
- Climate: Cool – Moderate
- Notable Regions: Beaujolais, France | Loire Valley, France | Burgundy, France | Valle d’Aosta, Italy | Oregon, USA | Switzerland | Canada | Santa Barbara, California, USA
Pairing Food with Gamay
Being the softly tannic and refreshingly acidic red that it is, Gamay based wine can be some of the easiest to pair with food. It is considered to be one of the “safe wines” by many wine professionals when it comes to food pairing. Click through any of our favorite recipes and food pairings that go with Beaujolais-styled or Gamay varietal wines below:
- Baked Buffalo Chicken Wraps
- Grilled Chicken Tacos with Cumin, Black Pepper & Onion
- Swordfish Kabobs with Balsamic Glaze
- Grilled Swordfish Skewers with Coconut, Key lime and Green Chile Sauce