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Oh hey, Gamay!

Why this easy-drinking red should be your newest go-to tipple.

First published in northsider magazine Summer 18/19

Gamay, red wine, wine trends, northsider

After four years of living in Japan in the late 1980s, I came back to Australia with a thirst for a moderate red wine, especially in summer. I found that full-bodied red wines were just too much for the traditional Japanese dishes I came to love. But I also quickly found that not everything went ideally with white wine either. Sake was the traditional alternative. But I wanted a wine!

Well, I soon found the answer was Beaujolais, France’s iconic ‘in-between’ wine – so called because it sits right between the tight and tannic reds of Bordeaux and the bolder Rhône reds. It’s the region’s signature grape variety, Gamay, and the traditional whole grape carbonic maceration fermentation process, with minimum skin and seed contact, that makes the difference. The wines have fresh cherry and berry aromas, a gentle mid-palate with soft tannins and an elegantly expressive savoury finish.

“The wines have cherry and berry aromas and flavours, and an expressive finish”

Beaujolais producers jumped into the Japanese market with great zeal in the 1980s and before long had created a seasonal social theme with Beaujolais Nouveau, the fresh, early release style put out in autumn each year. It won hearts and palates so convincingly that Japan became the largest market for Beaujolais outside France. This remained the case until just last year when it was slightly pipped by the US.

So, if Americans are being turned on by the Gamay style, why aren’t we? Especially given the prevalence of Japanese food in Australia.

Well, friends, Gamay is on the way!

The story of Aussie Gamay began in the mid-1980s when Chris and Robyn Pfeiffer took over a vineyard in Rutherglen, Vic, that had dormant Gamay vines. They decided to give it a go as a sole varietal release - and it worked! The 2018 Gamay is their 34th release and with a growing bunch of staunch followers, has required new vineyard plantings. More recently, the variety has captured broader industry and consumer interest and there are now at least 40 Australian wineries producing Gamay wines.

The wine goes so well with a broad range of traditional Japanese dishes. It’s good with deep-fried food, such as tempura and karaage, and it suits elegant teppanyaki meat perfectly. The flavours work with sushi and sashimi, particularly dark blue-skinned fish with a slightly oily touch, such as tuna, salmon and mackerel, and anything with a teriyaki sauce. Gamay also goes well with Thai dishes. And, best of all, it’s a perfect warm day lunch wine. Cheers!

The Aussie original

2018 Pfeiffer Gamay, $18, is like a full-bodied rosé, with cherry and berry aromas and flavours, soft tannins giving mid-palate weight and a dry, savoury finish. It can be slightly chilled, and opens up with a bit of air. Available at Pfeiffer Wines,

The fruity number

2016 Chateau de Pizay, $27.99, is an interesting and affordable Beaujolais – deep ruby colour, with fresh cherry aromas, gentle fruit impressions on mid-palate and a tight finish that lingers. Best to open early and let it breathe.

Available at Chambers Cellars, 121 Blues Point Road, McMahons Point

The local legend

2017 Sorrenberg Gamay, $55, is a locally available example of this variety – bright ruby colour with vibrant cherry and plum aromas and an elegantly expressive finish with attractive fruit tones. This biodynamic winery, in Beechworth, Vic, is another early adopter of Gamay in Australia.

Available at Le Pont Wine Store, 2/110 Alfred St, Milsons Point

Words: Denis Gastin -

Local wine guru Denis Gastin has contributed to The Australian, Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, The Oxford Companion to Wine and The World Atlas of Wine, and has been a wine columnist for a number of Australian magazines. He has lived in the local area for 30 years.

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