This feature was originally published in August of 2020, but has since been updated with added selections.
It’s time to make a bold statement: Gamay noir is the red wine of summer. There, it’s been said. Now I can fully explain.
Contrary to the current trend, the summer months aren’t just for sipping rosé. And even though hot and humid days are a great opportunity for exploring refreshing white wines like sauvignon blanc and riesling, or perhaps un-oaked chardonnay or pinot gris – served chilled of course – it doesn’t mean that red wines need to wait until the fall to make it out of your cellar. No, red wine needs to find its place at the table too!
I get it, opening up a bottle of red served room-temperature on a hot, humid day can be utterly un-refreshing, especially if it’s the kind of super-dry red that leaves you thirstier than your already-dehydrated self was before taking a sip. But missing out on the deliciousness of red wine for a whole season is a tragic thought. Wouldn’t you agree?
The most refreshing way to make red wine work as part of your summer routine is to chill it. But not all red wines should be chilled. Chilling full-bodied, high tannin, high-alcohol reds like cabernet sauvignon will make them taste astringent and metallic; and savoury wines like syrah that have lots of leathery, earthy, or spicy flavours will not drink well when chilled. The best red wines to chill are naturally light in body, low in tannins and are fruity. Chilling reds like these brings out their liveliness and minimizes the perception of alcohol.
Thank goodness for gamay. Gamay noir (more simply referred to as gamay on many bottlings) isn’t necessarily a grape variety that’s top of everyone’s mind, but it’s one well worth trying if you haven’t already done so. The gamay noir grape is native to Beaujolais, the region just south of Burgundy, and can make reds as nuanced as pinot noir—serious and structured. It’s jovial and fresh, a once odd fringe grape grown in just a few new world regions for ardent, venturesome winemakers (the North American palate tends to enjoy red wines with richness and sweetness, so it’s difficult for light, tart or rustic reds to compete).
However, once an underdog, gamay has become the cool kid on the vineyard block these days, getting much love from producers, thanks in part to its fruit-forward versatility, light to medium body and food-friendly nature. And good news, it’s best served chilled!
It doesn’t carry the clout of chardonnay or pinot noir with consumers, but grows just as well in Ontario’s unique climate. So, no need to walk down the Beaujolais aisle at the local wine shop. Gamay has become a proudly-made Canadian red wine, even sporting its own #gogamaygo hashtag!
So take the test, if you haven’t already, and try some Ontario gamay. You’ll find it’s just as refreshing as most rosés but more broadly satisfying and lively. And it makes for a great pairing with grilled meats and veggies, allowing you to keep the heavier reds in the cellar for a bit longer, while still getting that red wine fix you’ve been craving.
Below are some delicious Ontario selections, all made from the gamay noir grape:
Hidden Bench 2019 Gamay
The 2019 Gamay Noir represents the first of its kind for Hidden Bench, and this does not disappoint. From vineyard to bottle, the winery’s approach to gamay is very similar to their pinot noir practices. Hand picked, cluster sorted, destemmed then berry sorted before going to vat for cold soak. Un-fined and unfiltered, the wine’s freshness is captured expertly, having been racked and blended in May of 2020 prior to bottling in early June. Rich crushed raspberry and blackberry aromas lead into a savoury palate of brambled fruits and herbs. Soft and well integrated tannins, with a finish that lingers. ($29.95)
Southbrook 2018 ‘Laundry Vineyard’ Gamay
A beautiful gamay from another well-kept organic site that displays aromas of cranberry, strawberry and herbs. It’s savoury and fresh on the palate, with dry cherry and all-spice lending support. Thoroughly enjoyable and an excellent match for most foods. ($29.95)
Bachelder 2018 Wismer-Foxcroft ‘Niagara Cru’ Gamay Noir
Thomas Bachelder only just recently expanded his portfolio to include gamay noir and he’s made an auspicious start. I recently tasted his 2017 les Villages version, which was released last fall and is a blend of multiple vineyard parcels. It was very good, quite gulpable actually, and had me further intrigued. This gamay is just one of three single vineyard gamays currently released on his website, in addition to the 2018 les Villages also now available. It’s quite complex, layered with strawberry rhubarb, cherries, speckled spice, mineral notes and garden-fresh herbs. Careful, the bottle will be finished before you know it. ($27.95)
13th Street 2018 ‘Whitty Vineyard’ Gamay
This is one of 13th Street’s single vineyard gamay offerings – sourced from a micro-block within the Whitty Vineyard – and, with this, you get much more focused flavours. There’s inviting aromas of fresh raspberries, black cherry and rhubarb. Candied flavours of black cherry and strawberry on the palate with a refreshing mineral splash. There’s refreshing acidity adding to the structure. Great to serve along-side spicy barbecue dishes or cheese platter appetizers. ($23.95)
Leaning Post 2018 ‘Wismer Vineyard’ Gamay
This gamay from Leaning Post seems almost akin to pinot noir as it is layered with complex flavours that aren’t necessarily expected in most Ontario gamay wines. The nose presents aromas of earth, underbrush and brambled fruit in addition to cedar and pine if you really dig deep enough. Palate flavours are savoury and accented with subtle blackberry, spice and beet. Nothing particularly jammy or ripe about this wine and that’s okay. Will satisfy the contemplative imbiber. Pairs nicely with herb crusted chicken and roasted potatoes. ($25)
Adamo Estate Winery 2016 ‘Huebel Estates’ Oaked Gamay Noir
Adamo Estate Winery is a place off the beaten path, but they’re making some fantastic wines to say the least. This single vineyard gamay is juicy and savoury, with notes of underbrush, field berries, leather and dried cherries leading the way on a very structured palate. A versatile wine to pair with many styles of food from sweet to spicy and white and red meats alike. ($29.95)
Redstone ‘Bistro’ Gamay Noir
A savoury gamay with spicy, dark berry fruit aromas and additional flavours of cherry and cream soda. It’s simple, refreshing and pairs with just about anything. Try with chicken fajitas or with a fully-loaded, juicy burger. ($19)
Westcott Vineyards 2019 ‘Temperance’ Red
How about something that’s a gamay/pinot blend? What we have here seems to be something that stands apart from the drab and dull g/p blends I’ve tasted from various producers in the past. Westcott’s version is wild and malolactic fermented, this is 55 percent gamay fruit and 45 percent pinot noir. It’s minerally fresh with herbal and savoury notes, brambled fruit, earth, underbrush and cherries. Quite complex, and yes, to be taken seriously for what it is. ($19.99)
Adamo Estate Winery 2019 ‘Estate’ Gamay Rosé
For those who can’t get away from rosé, try one that’s made entirely from gamay. This is the first vintage of this very satisfying and refreshing wine and just 33 cases of it was made. 100 percent estate grown fruit made from four year old vines. 10 percent alcohol (a major reason why this is so gulpable). There’s lifted red fruits including strawberry, sour cherry and watermelon that carry over onto the palate. It’s bone dry with crisp, sharp and clean acidity. Hard to resist. ($19.95)
13th Street 2017 ‘Blanc de Noir’ Gamay
Okay so sparkling is going in a complete opposite direction here, but if you’re a fan of serving sparkling as a pre-dinner sipper, this might be one to try out. This is 13th Street’s first Blanc de Noir made exclusively from gamay grapes. It’s a bit unconventional, but there is reason to believe that this could take off and become more popular. There’s lovely aromas of raspberry and maraschino cherry. I get an initial creaminess on the palate with a mineral driven finish. It’s a bit tart and there’s some bitter flavours that round things off a bit, but it’s different and there’s bound to be a market for this stylishly bottled sparkling wine. ($34.95)