What kind of wine grape is Gamay?

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Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

What kind of grape is Gamay?

—Ranjit, Delhi, India

Dear Ranjit,

A good one! Most wine lovers have heard of Beaujolais Nouveau, which is the most famous wine made from the Gamay grape; it's released on the third Thursday of November after harvest (a tradition launched by vintner Georges Duboeuf in the early 1980s). It’s a fruity, easy-drinking red that is celebrated as the first wine of the newest vintage. (Unlike more traditional red wines, Beaujolais Nouveau is made using a fermentation method called carbonic maceration, which allows the wines to be ready to drink much sooner.) But there are also other terrific examples of wines made from Gamay, most of them from the Beaujolais and Loire regions of France. The grape has a long history in France, where it was originally in competition with the Pinot Noir grape in Burgundy (until it was unceremoniously banished in 1395). Gamay was prized for its early ripening and high yields.

If you’re looking for the most revered bottlings of Gamay, look for cru Beaujolais, made from one of the 10 classified areas within the Beaujolais region. The grape’s signature red fruity notes still come through, but when made more seriously, spice, floral, tea and pepper accents emerge. Crus Beaujolais grabbed the attention of sommeliers a few years ago. They loved the fresh, vibrant and food-friendly profiles, as well as their attractive prices. As other grapes and regions emerge on trendy wine lists, I still look for them, especially the top crus like Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie and Juliénas.

—Dr. Vinny

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