Drinks News

Australian gamay hits a high note

Gamay continues to grow in popularity among Australian drinkers and producers. What's more, local winemakers are adding new character to the Beaujolais signature. We take a closer look.

By Max Allen
Ravensworth, Lyons Will and Meadowbank gamay

As you read these words, I shall be gorging on andouillette in a bouchon in Lyon, chasing that parcel of pungent porky bits with a glass or two of vivid-purple young Beaujolais, the local red wine grown in the hills to the north of the ancient city.

I love Beaujolais, and the gamay grape from which it's made. I love how it sits so perfectly, stylistically, between the lighter-bodied, more ethereal pinot noirs of Burgundy (further to the north again), and the fuller-bodied, darker, more structural syrahs of the Rhône Valley to the south of Lyon. I love how its medium-weight-but-gutsy character makes gamay such a versatile wine on the table, matching everything from the lightest fish dishes and salads to the richest, stinkiest sausages.

You don't need to travel to Lyon to enjoy good gamay, of course. There has been a surge of interest in this gorgeous grape since I last wrote about it four years ago; Australian bottle-shop shelves and restaurant lists are now littered with excellent examples.

The number of superb Beaujolais wines from the region's top gamay growers available here continues to grow: look for the wines of Marcel Lapierre, Daniel Bouland, Château Thivin and Domaine du Vissoux, among others. These wines are hugely popular with sommeliers (see: food-friendliness, above), and our restaurant lists are particularly happy hunting grounds, not least because most of the currently available wines are from two very good vintages – unusually ripe, fruit-intense 2015s and more classical, finer, juicier 2016s.

More excitingly, perhaps, the number of Australian-grown gamays has more than doubled recently, with many new wines made for the first time during the 2017 vintage. From being an underappreciated variety made by just a handful of stalwart producers (mostly in Victoria: Sorrenberg in Beechworth, Bass Phillip in Gippsland, Pfeiffer in Rutherglen, and Eldridge Estate on the Mornington Peninsula), gamay is now cropping up all over the place.

The rejuvenated Meadowbank vineyard in Tasmania's Derwent Valley produces a bright purple, lithe 2017 gamay, with leading local winemaker Peter Dredge bringing his gentle touch with pinot noir to bear on the classic bistro grape. Up in the Canberra District, chef turned winemaker Bryan Martin brings a gastronomic sensibility to the juicy, vibrant gamay he's been making under his Ravensworth label for the last couple of years, using grapes grown in the high-country vineyards of Tumbarumba.

And over in the Adelaide Hills, gamay appeared in a number of new guises out of the 2017 vintage: as a fine, frothy pet-nat from BK Wines; blended with pinot noir to make a pretty fragrant red at Brackenwood (reviewed here earlier this year); and as a tangy, edgy medium-bodied red called The Price of Silence at Ochota Barrels.

Victoria, though, stakes its claim as the gamay state, with most of the new examples of the grape emerging from the cooler regions around Melbourne.

In the high-altitude Macedon Ranges to the north of the city, long-established winery Granite Hills produced a deliciously juicy wine from its first crop of gamay in 2017, while over near Lancefield, new winery Lyons Will Estate also harvested its inaugural crop, producing an elegant and pretty expression of the grape.

Down in the Geelong region, south-west of Melbourne, Nick Farr grafted some gamay vines onto a block of old cabernet sauvignon plants a few years ago, and has been making a gamy, dense, more intensely flavoured example of the variety under his Farr Rising label since the 2014 vintage. Over in the Yarra Valley, meanwhile, Punt Road Wines grafted their gamay onto old viognier vines, and now produce a particularly fragrant, purplefruited wine from those grapes.

The Yarra is emerging as a top region for gamay makers. As well as examples from Punt Road and the long-established De Bortoli winery (who have made a straight gamay under their Vinoque label and also blend some gamay with syrah for their La Bohème label), you'll also now find gamays from Thick as Thieves (made from King Valley-grown fruit) and Bobar, whose Gamma Ray, a blend of gamay and a goodly splash of cabernet franc, takes the grape in a whole new funky, ethereal direction.

In 2017, irrepressible Yarra winemaker Timo Mayer also sourced gamay from the same vineyard that supplied the grapes for the Gamma Ray and produced an altogether different wine: darker fruit, more supple, sinewy, and seriously seductive, with a savoury hint of bush track at dusk.

One taste of this and you realise you're not in Beaujolais any more, Toto. Rather than conjuring up images of andouillette, this is a gamay that calls for something equally funky but more appropriately local. Kangaroo tartare, perhaps?

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  • Author: Max Allen