Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wine Blogging Wednesday 68 - Got Gamay?

After having taken five years to actually discover and participate in my first Wine Blogging Wednesday ("WBW"), I'm a tad disappointed that it's taken me another three months to get my act in gear for a sophomore entry. Guess the Vancouver Olympics - and the inevitable catch-up period that followed - left me a bit behind the eight ball. I'm glad to be back to give it another whirl though.

This month's topic is being hosted by Frank Morgan of Drink What You Like and he'd like to see what everyone has to say about the Gamay Noir grape. He admits to a bit of "fetish" for the "often overlooked and underestimated" grape. How could I say "no" to joining in on a fellow blogger's fetish?

I don't know if she'd classify it as a fetish, but I did recall that the Lady Di has a thing going on with Gamay. So, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for Boo and I to invite her and She Who Must Be Obeyed over for dinner. My thought was to have a little catch-up time with the girls, compare a couple of Gamays from different areas and both participate again in WBW and make a couple of additions to The List.

Unlike some of the best known varietals like Merlot or Shiraz, the Gamay Noir grape is not a grape that we tend to see produced worldwide. Known for its high acidity and somewhat fragile profile, it tends to be produced as a straight varietal and isn't noted as a popular blending grape. There are a couple of strongholds - most notably in the Beaujolais and Loire regions of France. However, it is being introduced and vinified in Australia and Oregon now as well. It is also grown in both of Canada's major wine regions - Ontario and BC.

With that in mind, I figured I'd contrast a Beaujolais with a homegrown BC wine and see how they compared. The Lady Di didn't need to but she brought along a bottle of her own. We were going to taste everything blind, but I thought I'd just take a quick check of her wine. Good thing I did because, against all odds, she brought along the same Beaujolais that I had picked up. Luckily, I'd grabbed a couple possible choices and substituted a second bottle so that we could compare a trio.

Since she's a non-drinker - a rarity among my crowd - we asked She Who Must Be Obeyed to decant and number each of the wines so that none of us tasting would know which wine was which.

We sampled each of them both before and during dinner and, somewhat surprisingly, came to some very similar conclusions - particularly since Boo and I are known to have regularly differing favourites. I usually think of Beaujolais as being very approachable and easy drinking on its own. Eric Asimov in his New York Times column has written that the best Beaujolais wines "combine density of flavour with lightness of body." I don't know if our wines lived up to that profile though. None of us sang praises of incredible noses or bright fruit and all three of us found each of the wines to have long acidic finishes that went much better with the food than on their own.

Before revealing our wines, I'll mention that it turns out that our French wines represented two of the ten Beaujolais Crus - Fleurie and Cote de Brouilly. Knowing that Beaujolais can be dominated by large producers, both Lady Di and I tried to locate smaller, family run wineries that were still generally considered top notch producers in the area. Both wines came highly recommended in the Vancouver market.

In another surprise for the evening, all three of us chose the same wine as our favourite. We thought that all three were similar in structure and overall profile - a light to medium body with red berry fruit coming through with a bunch of pucker to finish. The determining factor for all of us though was that the fruit shone through more brightly with one wine. The wines, in order of overall preference, were:

411. 2008 Orofino Gamay (Similkameen Valley)

Yet another surprise. The BC wine was a clear choice over the two Cru Beaujolais. Gamay still isn't a big name varietal in BC. Indeed, Orofino only made 70 cases of this vintage. It would seem, however, that the varietal might have a bit of future in the region. I've written a bit about Orofino previously and I really believe that John and Virginia Weber are off to a great start. Located in the Similkameen and living in the shadow of the more famous Okanagan, this only builds on my hope that the new region sees even greater exposure to what they're capable of. Their website describes their approach to the Gamay as being all about the fruit and a softness on the palate. They must have succeeded as we all identified a more prominent fruit with the Orofino.

412. 2007 Chateau Thivin Cote de Brouilly - Les Sept Vignes (AOC Cote de Brouilly - France)

413. 2007 Domaine du Vissoux Fleurie - Les Garants (AOC Fleurie - France)

We didn't find too much of a discernable difference as to preference between the two French wines. The Lady and I had a slight preference for the Cote de Brouilly, while Boo picked the Fleurie as his second choice.

Both wineries offer a selection of Beaujolais wines - from different region-wide Cru to single vineyard labels. We, coincidentally, tried a different approach from the two producers. The Fleurie was a single vineyard while the Cote de Brouilly was a blend from Chateau Thivin's seven plots in the region.

Generally speaking, Domaine de Vissoux is supposed to be fashioned to be slightly more fruit forward in its approach than most Beaujolais wines and its single vineyard Fleuries have been called among the best in the appellation. Les Garants is apparently one of the most revered. Robert Parker even gave this particular vintage a 91 score. As mentioned though, we didn't notice the fruit so much - especially compared to the Orofino.

Both Lady Di and I were advised by respective wine merchants that Chateau Thivin is regarded as one of the best and most consistent estates in Beaujolais. Although this wine is a blend from seven different vineyards, each of those plots are noted by the owners for its own unique qualities and the fruit from each vineyard is vinified separately before blended.

The pricing on all the wines was very similar. All were in the $25-$28 range which makes them a little pricey for a supposed easy drinking, mid-week, patio wine (but remember where I am and BC's high tax regime).

Thanks to Frank and his choice of topics for getting me back into the WBW game. All in all, I don't know that I'm quite ready to join Frank in his elevation of Gamay to fetish level, but I will keep an eye out for some further opportunities to try it - particularly for some additional BC takes on the grape.

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