The Gamay varietal is famous for producing the simple, light wines of Beaujolais, a wine region consisting of 10 villages just north of Lyon, France. For some reason the grape, when vinified using carbonic maceration, captured the attention of wine marketers in the 1970’s who succeeded in making the November release into a national event, and subsequently a worldwide event that has customer’s falling over each other to get a bottle of this insipid wine that smells and tastes like bubblegum. It is indeed one of the silliest marketing ploys in the wine world, and that is saying a lot.
But in Beaujolais there are some serious producers that make a wine of some depth and complexity via conventional fermentation. Unfortunately, in the rare instances when the varietal is grown in the United States, producers tend to make it in the Nouveau style, I suppose in order to capitalize on that marketing magic.
Happily, Piluso Vineyard and Winery, a small Oregon producer on the often-ignored East side of the Willamette Valley makes Gamay in the more serious style of the better Beaujolais producers.
Light ruby in the glass, the nose shows tart raspberry with pretty rose petal notes and a beautiful overlay of baking spices against a background of freshly turned earth. Very aromatic and expressive for this grape; and no bubblegum. The palate is light and fresh without much concentration, tasting of tart cranberry with hints of ginger and a peppery finish supported by barely discernable, powdery tannins. High in acidity, the aggressive tartness was a little much for a simple chicken dish but pairs well with fresh tomatoes and would be wonderful with a cranberry garnished Thanksgiving turkey.
Gamay is an inherently limited grape varietal but this version shows its true potential.
Owner/winemaker Sandee Piluso has wanted to make wine since she was a teenager and since 1998 has been living that dream. In addition to the ubiquitous Pinot Noir and this Gamay, she makes Dolcetto, Tempranillo, Gruner Veltliner, an impressive port-style dessert wine, and a stunning white Pinot Noir, all in the same elegant style with an emphasis on alluring aromatics.
This is a very small production and unlikely to be available outside the winery. But these small operations, labors of love, are the beating heart of wine culture and deserve recognition. A good reason to support your local winery.
This wine reminds me of the light-hearted, spicy, exuberance of Lily Allen’s Air Balloon