The year was 1395 and Duc Philippe le Hardi of Dijon was incensed. Not for the usual reasons politicians get incensed, either. He was furious about a grape. So furious, in fact, that he promulgated an official ban of the “bad and disloyal variety Gaamez” grape (today we call it Gamay) because of its injurious effects on many who drank wine made from it.

He went on to claim that those who drank Gamay “were infested by serious diseases” and that the grape “is full of significant and horrible bitterness.” His edict ended with an order that all farmers remove their Gamay vines within five months.

Many subsequent bans of Gamay were ordered – in 1567, 1725 and 1731. Thank Bacchus the farmers disobeyed, because I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy that delicious glass of Beaujolais last night had they heeded the ban.

Here’s the skinny on Gamay, why you might overlook it and a few wines to try if you’re willing to change your position.

Beaujolais, where Gamay is grown, principally, is a small wine-growing region just south of Burgundy in eastern France. It’s a hop, skip and a jump northwest of Lyon. About 46,000 acres of vines are planted around Beaujolais, 45,000 of which are Gamay. If anyone knows how to work this grape, it’s the growers in Beaujolais; they’ve had centuries to perfect their techniques, and they haven’t been distracted by other varietals.

The growers have broken up their wines into three major categories. Wines labeled simply “Beaujolais” usually come from the southernmost part of the region, where the topography is uniformly flat. They tend to be simple and delicious in their youth, but they rarely have the staying power to make it past a few years.


Wines labeled “Beaujolais Villages” mainly come from the middle part of the region, which shows some topographical variance: its higher elevation sites have different kinds of subsoils, each imparting something different to the grapes that grow in them.

About 46,000 acres of vines are planted around Beaujolais, 45,000 of which are Gamay.

Finally, wines labeled with the names of specific appellations, like Morgon, Fleurie and Chiroubles, are known as Cru Beaujolais and usually come from the northernmost part of the region. There are 10 crus in all. These are the most sought after wines of Beaujolais. They can age gracefully; I’ve drunk some that were over 15 years old that were still alive and had years ahead of them.

Gamay growers have had a rough go of it ever since Duc Philippe had them in his crosshairs some six centuries ago. They flailed around through 300+ years of state-sponsored agricultural edicts and bans. Not easy. They have grown up under the enormous shadow of Burgundy, sort of like growing up with a brilliant, good-looking, athletic and popular older sibling.

Beaujolais has been overlooked for other reasons, as well. The Beaujolais Nouveau phenomena – oceans of fruity, very simple wine that are rushed to market in late November every year – hasn’t done wonders for the reputation of Gamay.

Producing things en masse tends to suck the soul out of those things. Some Beaujolais Nouveau is the factory widget of the wine world – without distinction. Unfortunately, for most of the public, Beaujolais Nouveau is their first and only impression of wine made from Gamay. If all I ever got to drink from Beaujolais was the Nouveau stuff, I would definitely conclude that the region had no interest in making serious wine.

One other reason that wine drinkers often overlook Beaujolais is that few are looking for lightness as a wine experience. In the 10 years I’ve sold wine, I’ve come to conclude that people who seek lightness are in the minority, by far. To put it another way, I sell far more endomorphic than ectomorphic wines. Loud wines demand – and get – lots of attention, just like their human counterparts, while wines that whisper, well, they’re easy to discount.


So, tonight, tomorrow or whenever you find yourself hunting for a bottle, put Gamay in your crosshairs. Here are a few wines that punch above their weight:

Raisins Gaulois, Mathieu LaPierre, Beaujolais, 2016 (National Distributors)

This is an everyday drinker; it’s both much less expensive and less complex than the other two I suggest below. It’s light without being invisible, and red fruit and peppercorns drive its flavor profile. It’s the kind of wine you can drink out of tumblers and Mason jars, especially when slightly chilled.

Morgon, M. LaPierre, Beaujolais, 2015 (National Distributors)

This is more serious Beaujolais. Some even consider it a benchmark Beaujolais, one that other wines are judged by. The fruit gets quite a bit darker and riper in this bottle than in the Raisins Gaulois. Tannins – the compounds found in the skins and seeds of grapes that give your mouth that dry, sandpapery experience – are markedly more present in this wine than in the other two Beaujolais suggested here, which is typical for Beaujolais from the Morgon cru.

Régnié, Nicolas Chemarin, 2015 (Wicked Wines)

Another cru Beaujolais. Reds from this cru tend to exhibit a softer, more elegant structure. The tannins are lightly present and soft, while the aromatics reveal strawberry and graphite. It is a supple yet chiseled wine.

Bryan Flewelling is the wine director for Big Tree Hospitality, which owns three restaurants in Portland: Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honey Paw.

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