Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


What's in my glass this week, 5 January 2024

Gamay's new lease of life

Gamay, where have you been all my life?

Now the festive season is officially over, there is less fizz in most of our glasses but the wine in mine over the past week has been a surprising summer red and I haven't been drinking it chilled. Gamay. It's an old grape being given a new lease of life everywhere from Central Otago to California and the wines from New Zealand's deep south are impressive. The climate there clearly works well for the Gamay grape, which buds early and ripens early so it can generally withstand a cool climate, as long as it can escape spring frosts.

Gamay can be a tricky little number, in terms of reputation and growing habits. Best known for being the sole player in Beaujolais Nouveau; the insipid, pale, barely fermented (and often still fermenting) light red wines of the 1970s and 1980s, which did not put Gamay's best foot forward. But, fast forward to now and the winemakers of the Beaujolais region are rebuilding their reputation for the top wines in their interesting hierarchy of quality. All Beaujolais is made solely from the Gamay grape and most is grown on flat land and makes light to medium bodied, fruity red wine, but the best Beaujolais are impressive red wines which can age. They could be described as serious but they taste like so much fun that it's hard to believe Beaujolais ever fell from grace when it comes to wine quality. The top wines are from the 10 crus; St-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly, which produce some of the smoothest reds made in France today, often at attractively affordable prices. I have been extremely impressed with three such wines from the large Maison Joseph Drouhin, whose Fleurie, Morgan and Moulin-a-Vent are all distinctly different, deliciously affordable at NZ $39 to $41-ish, and surprisingly powerful in flavour and structure. 

This week's top three Gamays are all made in New Zealand and have impressed everyone I have introduced them to.

Three Gamays of the week


2022 Dicey Gamay RRP $44.99

Grapegrowing, winemaking brothers Matt and James Dicey describe themselves as caretakers of their land, grapes and wines and prefer to see their role as one of bringing the taste of what they grow to the glass (rather than imprinting their hand on the wine). I love this approach, which comes through strongly in both their red wines (this Gamay and their various Pinot Noirs). Here, the wine went through 16% whole bunch fermentation while the majority (84%) of fruit was destemmed. Wild yeast fermentation and natural malolactic fermentation were followed by ageing in old oak and the wine tastes robust, structured, velvety and smooth. 

Available from specialist stores


2023 Mount Edward Gamay RRP $35.99

Velvety in structure with juicy mid palate interest and softness, all allowing Gamay to strut its finest stuff in this lovely southern take on this pretty French grape variety. This is a lovely summer red and can be served lightly chilled or enjoy at room temperature. Too easy to enjoy - and it will match a wide range of foods.


2020 Easthope Gamay RRP $36.99

A beautifully structured Gamay from grape grower Ian Quinn's Two Terraces Vineyards in Maraekakaho, Hawke's Bay. All grapes that went into this wine were hand picked, whole bunch fermented, foot stomped and aged in a combo of old oak puncheons and stone eggs, which brings depth and complex flavour notes into this smooth, silky red that is superbly drinkable year round.