Wine with Food: California Gamay Beaujolais
By Paul Kalemkiarian Sr. | November 1984
If you are presently a white wine enthusiast yet wish to develop a red wine palate, this is the wine to start with. Many people who say they like white wines only, do so because they have usually been turned off by the boldness and intensity of many red wines.
If you are one of these people, you are missing out on half the world of wine, and half the glorious taste sensations that red wines provide. Now, I admit that there is a physiological reason for this with some people. A few individuals develop headaches immediately on consuming red wine. They are usually sensitive to ingredients in red grape juice. For them, I have no solution except desensitization by an allergist (assuming you can find one to do it for you, and if you are that anxious to do so!).
However, for the “white wine only” advocate who may have room for a change of heart, let me plead the case for the reds.
You should look at red wines as meal wines essentially. And you should try to serve them with the meals that they complement In addition, you should start with the lighter ones, and slowly move into the bigger ones.
By all means, start with a Gamay Beaujolais. A young California Gamay Beaujolais will be just fine. Be sure it is young. Anything over two years is usually losing its charm and freshness. Old Beaujolais is a most uninteresting wine, and enough reason for a turnoff by itself. Never age any Gamay Beaujolais wine after it has been released by the wine maker. Usually he/she selects the optimum time for release from the original harvest time. His/her winemaking style dictates additional constraints. Once released, it most often must be consumed within a year.
So what is so special about a Gamay Beaujolais for such an exercise? I consider it a rather unique grape, and an extraordinary wine style, in the realm of red wines.
As a grape, it generally produces wines of light character with lots of fruit aroma and flavor, minimum of astringency due to tannin, and a tendency to crispness.
As a wine style, it follows that the winemakers have taken the attributes of the grape variety and exploited it to the maximum, by producing a wine that best shows those qualities. Every so often, you see the term “Beaujolais style” used for a wine made from another grape that has been produced in that style!
Now, this column is about Food with Wine, so lets see what we have in that department
My favorite meal for a Gamay Beaujolais is lunch. It makes a wonderful summer luncheon accompaniment, as long as the fare is compatible. Meat sandwiches of most varieties are excellent companions. Ham salads are my particular favorite. I think chef salads, even with the turkey, do go very well (not French dressing though since Thousand Island dressing would be the most suitable. Blue cheese dressing would be too overpowering.). Cold assorted meat and cheese plates with French bread are just fine to serve with Gamay Beaujolais.
For dinner time, you can serve it with main courses of baked ham or saute veal. And with the traditional American quickie: grilled hamburgers! (not barbecue . . . that requires a wine with more depth and strength.)
Gamay Beaujolais should be served slightly chilled, contrary to most red wine traditions! And again, remember…the younger it is, the better it is.
Some recent examples of better California Gamay Beaujolais I have had are Stag’s Leap Cellars, Parducci, Beringer, Fetzer, Pedroncelli.
Interestingly, not too many California wineries are making this varietal any more. It is a shame. We need this stepping-stone wine around for all you white wine enthusiasts!