Night of the living red: How Gamay made a comeback

Darren Smith

Darren Smith

22 July 2019

Wine styles drift in and out of fashion, and some varieties that looked down and out 20 years ago are starting to come back to life. Darren Smith presents five grape varieties that came back from the dead


Gamay

When it was famous

During the 20th century, Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent were synonymous with the best wines of Burgundy or Bordeaux. At the turn of the 20th century they were selling at the same price as 1er Cru Classé clarets.

Despite setbacks, certain crus have retained some of their lustre over the decades – Beaujolais wines, which develop a certain kirsch and flower-scented complexity with time in bottle, are sometimes said to have ‘Morgonned’.

Why it declined

In the hard times following the second world war, the Nouveau style was thought to be Beaujolais’ salvation. In the end, Nouveau was almost its ruin, owing to the massive quantities of characterless wine being made.

The wines were often chaptalised and sterile-filtered, leading to a homogenous product – Fleurie tasted the same as Morgon, which tasted the same as Beaujolais-Villages.

How it came back

The attempts of some producers to preserve the region’s diversity using massal selections of old vines to create higher quality wines certainly helped. And so did, from the 1980s onwards, the influence of pioneering oenologist Jules Chauvet and his disciple Jacques Néauport on the so-called ‘Gang of Four’: Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Guy Breton and Jean-Paul Thevenet.

When they started to make their wines, they were ridiculed by the whole of Beaujolais, but they’ve paved the way for a new generation: Matthieu Lapierre, Alex Foillard, Anthony Thevenet, Jules Métras, Kevin Descombes, Yann Bertrand and Justin Dutraive, among others.

Why it’s good

In the semi-carbonic style of the producers mentioned above, the beguiling combination of lightness and concentration, ethereality and complexity makes it great; all the while, it maintains the typicity of the grape and the terroir.

This style of Gamay has become the taste of a new generation of wine enthusiasts who demand that a wine be drinkable as well as profound.

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