Gamay a jus noir, aka gamay, is most fashionable in the fall, when Beaujolais Nouveau wines made from the year's harvest hit the shelves on the third Thursday of November. However, when it comes to summer sipping, there is no other red wine I would rather drink.
Although originally from the Côtes de Beaune in France, gamay has become nearly synonymous with Beaujolais. A cross between pinot noir and gouais (which also counts chardonnay among its many offspring), the first known plantings are from the 14th century. While pinot noir edged gamay out of Burgundy, it found a happy home in the granite-rich soils south in Beaujolais. It's also grown in the Loire Valley and some plantings can still be found in the Maconnais and scattered throughout other parts of Burgundy.
Light-bodied, it resembles pinot noir with its berrylike quality, but has the spice you would find from syrah or grenache. It often undergoes carbonic maceration, where the grapes are fermented as whole berries or clusters and emanate carbon dioxide. As a result, the wine is less tannic and has brighter acidity and fruit.
Gamay has become much more popular than it was a decade ago when the mere mention of Beaujolais made many enophiles cringe. Both Beaujolais and the Loire Valley have been leading the quest to make wines organically and without the use of chemicals or additives. As the "natural-wine movement" has gained steam in the past few years, the interest in Beaujolais and gamay as a grape has been rekindled.
If you have never tried one, there is no better time than August, as it is refreshing with a slight chill and matches the gamut of lighter summer fare. Here are three:
Marcel Lapierre Raisins Gaulois, 2011 (Vin de France): One of the first winemakers to eschew chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or commercial yeast, Marcel Lapierre has inspired many of today's up and coming greats. Raisins Gaulois is mostly from the cru of Morgon, but also has some fruit from other parts of Beaujolais. As such, it's just Vin de France, and as Lapierre's intention was to make a wine that was gulpable, the label just may fit. What a delicious wine it is — light and juicy with pomegranate, berries, black cherries and an undercurrent of spice. You better get a couple bottles, as this wine goes down way too quickly. Suggested retail: $13
Côtes Roannaise, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Robert Sérol 2010 (Loire Valley): Though in the Loire, the Côtes Roannaise is not far from Beaujolais and here gamay reigns. Robert Serol's family has been making wine for five generations, but he was the first to bottle under the family name in 1971. His son, Stéphane, took over in 2000 and the domaine has been Terra Vitis, which is a form of certified sustainability, since 2005. Made from six parcels, the average age of the vines is 40 years. Though delicate on the palate, this wine makes an impression with pepper, a hint of cloves, rhubarb and cherries. Suggested retail: $16
Chanrion Côte de Brouilly, 2011 (Beaujolais): This year marks 25 vintages since Nicole Chanrion took over the family estate that was founded by her ancestors in 1861. Now one of the most influential figures in the region, she became the president of the Côte de Brouilly in 2000. Made from 50-year-old vines, this Beaujolais has a nose that is a mixed bouquet of violets, pepper and raspberries with a smidgeon of cinnamon. Suggested retail: $20
These wines can be found through K&L Wine Merchants, Paul Marcus Wines, Vino, William Cross Wine Merchant, Andronico's Market (Shattuck Avenue and Solano Avenue locations), Arlequin Wine Merchants, Bi-Rite Market, Dig Wines and Driver's Market.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.