Gamay first gained notoriety in 1395, banned from human consumption with claims of bitterness, poison and serious disease! All this, from the poor bastard child of Pinot Noir and that promiscuous, everyone's-momma-on-the-block, Gouais. Several hundreds of years later, things settled down in the rhetoric department and Gamay became the beloved cultivar of Beaujolais. Gamay is also allowed on the hillsides of Lyon (where it makes Coteaux du Lyonnais), in the weird and oft forgot Loire appendage AOPs of Central France, and finally, in Valencay AOP in Touraine.
We are often taught that Beaujolais is the southern appendage of Burgundy and politically this is true. Philisophically, I beg to differ. And within official French departments, a different allegiance is revealed.
I think the real story lies in the strata, the rocks, and the craggy elevations. Only one of the ten cru is actually in the Saone et Loire department (the same department that covers the very end of the Cote de Beaune, Cote Chalonnaise and Maconnais): Saint Amour. The next three cru lay within both the Rhone department and the Saone: Julienas & Chenas, with friable granite, clay & silica soils, and Moulin-A-Vent, with veins of Magnesium. Fleurie is where the granite really begins and this is the cru that is fully in the Rhone department, leaving the Saone valley and hills behind. Granite, pink, decomposed mainly, again dominates in Chiroubles, the famous terroir of Morgon (and it's great hill, Colline de Py), and in Regnie. Schiste, limestone, clay, and blue rocks make up the soils of Brouilly and the Cotes de Brouilly. And then, in the large swath that is Beaujolais-Villages, a return to Burgundian limestone.
It's just that I have been drinking this:
And it has got me to thinking. About how reduction and firm granitic minerals lay on the palate and about how I sense parallels between some of these more granitic sites and the northern end of Saint-Joseph. And now, it seems, very likely, that Pinot Noir also fathered Dureza, who then mated with Mondeuse Blanc to parent Syrah. So really, Gamay and Syrah are not so far apart. It really may just be an issue of fermentation methods and expectations in youth. A child born of granite who delights; puts on adorable one-act plays and is generally good-natured, versus the sullen, moody son, closed and difficult towards the world, who finally, in his twenties, casts this personality away to reveal something more generous, but still in possession of a little hardness and grit.
I think it is a chilled glass of this more sunny child of granite you may want, when walking down ancient cobbled streets, to accompany that rustic tartine in front of you, spread with rabbit rillette or a terrine of chicken liver, while the skies fill with rain, and you wait, poised to dash away, in a momentary sunburst.
But perhaps, in darker times and faced with a more serious piece of flesh in front of you, you may turn to that darker child of granite, when blood and smoke and tar seem just right.