As a cool-climate region, Canada sees the value and the possibilities of having this grape in the ground — and it did from the very early stages. With their first vintage of Gamay going way back to 1978, Château des Charmes’ Michele Bosc has seen the grape mature in the field and consumers’ eyes, “When planning the vineyards, Paul, Sr., believed there was enough similarity between Niagara and Burgundy … but he didn’t know the specifics of which grapes would do best in which sites. So, he planted them all — from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to Gamay Noir and Viognier and Syrah. Gamay thrived, Syrah did not.”
At Cave Spring Cellars, long-time winemaker Angelo Pavan recalls, “It was understood to be winter hardy and, being a Burgundy variety, an earlier ripener; therefore, it was a safe bet.”
All the way across the country in British Columbia, start-up wineries found it already planted in the vineyards they purchased: “Our vineyard is 19 acres, and about three of it is Gamay, which was planted in 1986, making it respectably old,” says Andrew Melville of The Hatch Winery in the Okanagan Valley.
Gamay is considered more of a companion than a headliner. But it’s potential that Melville sees: “I think it could be a signature grape, not just in BC but in Ontario and even Nova Scotia and Quebec. I like the idea because while our regions are so distinct and diverse and we all do other things individually; this grape could be the national unifier.”
And he may be onto something. Many producers can’t imagine Canada without Gamay. “For us, we’ve long enjoyed Gamay from top producers such as Malivoire, Featherstone, Cave Spring, Henry of Pelham, 13th Street. With time, the Canadian marketplace will be ready for a soft, fruit-forward, fun but well-structured red wine that’s price accessible and food friendly,” says Andrew Brooks of Back 10 Cellars. “It’s Pinot Noir without the attitude!”
It cannot be overlooked that the popularity of Gamay is primarily driven by winemakers, who gravitate towards the grape, its hardiness and food-friendly acidity. “Ultimately, it’s the ability to preserve both fruit and acidity in the extreme vintages that makes Gamay so rewarding to work with, and ideal for our climate. We can have major vintage variation, and yet the wines always end up with the right balance, even in the hot, dry years … At its core, Gamay is instantly charming. It’s hard for me to describe another variety like that,” supposes Shiraz Mottiar, the winemaker at Malivoire Wine Company.
Angelo Pavan believes we can fill another unique void in the wine world: “We have a chance to establish Niagara’s red wine identity with [Gamay]. It complements Cabernet Franc really well in this regard, since both grapes are rarely produced as mono-varietal wines in the New World and [are] quite rare in Europe.”
One thing is for sure. We have some serious Gamays being made in this country, which means there’s only one thing left to say: #GoGamayGo
Volcanic Hills Gamay Noir 2016, British Columbia ($17)
Full-on black cherry with floral and cassis backing it up; this is just pure juicy goodness.
Henry of Pelham Gamay Estate 2016, Ontario ($20)
White pepper, raspberry and black cherry, with a nice spiced middle and long fruit-forward finish.
Cave Spring Gamay 2016, Ontario ($16)
Fresh and fruity with raspberry and cherry driving this wine; white pepper and red peppercorns also give it a pleasant savouriness.
Malivoire Small Lot Gamay 2016, Ontario ($19.95)
Full-on cherry that just pops right out of the glass and into your olfactories. The palate is simple yet elegant with red liquorice mixing it up with red and black cherry.
Malivoire Courtney Gamay 2016, Ontario ($28)
A multi-layered Gamay with anise, black cherry, strawberry, white and black pepper, leading to a lengthy spiced-fruit finish.
Stratus Gamay 2015, Ontario ($29)
Juicy from start to finish: black cherry, anise, white pepper, and black pepper with cinnamon, and plum on the finish. Layered and lovely.
Pipe Dreams Gamay 2015, British Columbia ($26)
Anise, black cherry and red currants, with a savoury middle and long finish.
Château des Charmes Gamay Noir Droit 2016, Ontario ($19)
Floral with black cherry and black pepper. Easy drinking but this one still has a bite.
The Hatch Gamay 2016, British Columbia ($25)
Black cherry, liquorice, smoky red cherry and an herbal finish that sneaks in some cassis.
13th Street Sandstone Vineyard Gamay Noir 2014, Ontario ($30)
Blackberry, black cherry, cinnamon and herbal notes with hints of cassis.
Back 10 Cellars Everything at Stake Gamay 2017, Ontario ($25)
Rich black cherry, sweet and sour black fruit hints of strawberry and raspberry on the mid-palate with good balancing acidity on the finish.
Featherstone Gamay Noir 2016, Ontario ($17)
Red-fruit driven with a cherry blossom note that sits right on top, lifting that fruit to a level of elegance.
13th Street Gamay 2016, Ontario ($20)
Plum, black cherry and strawberry with a delicate spicy finish.
Trius Gamay Noir 2016. Ontario ($20)
Full-on red fruit with raspberry and white pepper taking centre stage.
Bella Wines Canada Vineyard Sparkling Gamay 2017, British Columbia ($28)
Floral, raspberry and blood orange with a pleasant finish. Only 70 cases made.
Deep Roots Gamay 2016, British Columbia ($24)
Simple but tasty with blackberry, black cherry and smoked raspberry.
Rust Wine Co. Gamay 2017, British Columbia ($22)
Sweet mid with red liquorice, raspberry and anise. Juicy middle and a long finish. Temptingly tasty.