Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gamay Grape and the 2009 Vintage in Beaujolais

Gamay -- official name Gamay noir à Jus Blanc -- is famously known as the black grape of Beaujolais but is also grown to a lesser extent in the Loire, Jura and Savoie, and the Rhone Valley.  Named after a Burgundian hamlet in close proximity to Puligny-Montrachet, the varietal is the result of an ancient cross between Pinot Noir and Gouvais Blanc, an ancient varietal originally grown in Central Europe (According to Wineworld's Blog, "gouvais blanc was given by emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus (born 232 – 282 and emperor from 276 – 282), from Pannonia, to Gauls who planted it close to pinot vineyards where many spontaneous crosses resulted ...").  The varietal enjoyed the full run of Burgundy until ordered pulled out by Duke Philip the Bold who wanted to eliminate competition for Pinot Noir.  The vines in Beaujolais did not suffer the same fate as their core Burgundian counterparts and have flourished in the region to this day.

Gamay grows best in granite and limestone soils and struggles in alkaline conditions.  Its growing cycle is on the early end of the spectrum and, as such, it is susceptible to spring frosts.  The berries are large with thin, tough skins and grow in large clusters.  Wines from the varietal are generally fruity and acidic and winemakers have utilized carbonic maceration to accentaute the fruitiness.  Wines from the grape genearlly have a fruity, floral bouquet and aromas of bubble gum, banana, cotton candy, and vanilla.

2009 Vintage

Primarily due to the flash-in-the-pan nature of Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais wines have not gained significant traction in the marketplace -- or the attention of the wine press and critics -- but the 2009 vintage has contributed significantly to putting the cru Beaujolais wines back on the wine-drinking map.  To begin with, the vintage was blessed with almost-perfect growing conditions with steady warming through August punctuated with a little rain in June.  Growing conditions and crop management processes resulted in low yield of high-quality fruit with great balance in sugar and acidity and high tannin levels.  These grapes were harvested between August 25th and September 25th and produced elegant, concentrated wines.  Georges Duboeuf, the so-called King of Beaujolais, calls 2009 "the vintage of the century" and describes the wines as being "... incredibly elegant and delicious ..."  The Wine Advocate refers to the 2009 Beaujolais wines as "... gloriously generous and genuinely complex ..." 

All in all, 2009 seems like a "come-home" vintage for those who have fled the fold and a great time for the uninitiated to become involved with Beaujolais wines.

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