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Martian Absolute Magnitude Gamay Noir 2013
With a dry and mild climate cooled significantly by breezy ocean fog, Santa Barbara County is a grape-grower’s dream. Part of the larger Central Coast appellation, Santa Barbara is home to six separate AVAs—Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, and its four sub-AVAs Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District, and Happy Canyon. The conditions here provide an opportunity for nearly effortless production of high-quality cool-climate wines. This is also the site of the 2004 film Sideways, which caused Pinot Noir’s popularity to skyrocket and brought new acclaim to the region.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the stars of Santa Barbara, marked by trademark racy acidity, crisp Sauvignon Blanc, and savory Syrah. The region is also home to many young and enthusiastic winemakers eager to experiment with less common varieties including Chenin Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Trousseau Gris, Gamay, and Cabernet Franc, making it an exciting area to watch.
Delightfully playful yet at its best capable of impressive gravitas, Gamay is responsible for juicy, berry-flavored wines in Beaujolais and parts of the Loire Valley. It has received some criticism for its role in Beaujolais Nouveau, a young beverage more reminiscent of fruit punch than wine. But make no mistake—the Gamay grape is very capable of producing light yet serious wines, especially in the cru villages of Beaujolais. The variety is also widely planted in Savoie and Switzerland, and has recently found success on a small but growing scale in Oregon.
In the Glass
Gamay can be decidedly light and fruity with flavors cherry candy and cranberry. Made for Beaujolais Nouveau, with a quick fermentation process, the wines give fun and flirty aromas of banana or bubblegum. The Nouveau style is to drink early and not contemplate. More complex Gamays (Village or cru level) offer dark blackberry or ripe cherry flavors with enticing aromas of baking spice, violets and dark wet earth as well as aging potential.
Gamay is delicious on its own, especially with a light chill. It is the quintessential picnic red and goes well with simple charcuterie, country pate, and terrines. Served at a cool temperature, it is an unexpected but outstanding partner for freshly shucked oysters. Gentle tannins and bright acidity make it a great option with Asian food, even dishes with a bit of a spicy kick. Gamay can also be a great pairing with poultry, especially duck or Thanksgiving turkey with cranberry sauce.
Within Beaujolais, there are ten different crus, or highly ranked grape-growing communes. Each one has its own distinct personality—Fleurie is delicate and floral, Côte de Brouilly is concentrated and elegant, and Morgon is serious, structured, and age-worthy, capable of rivaling some red Burgundies.