Originally known as Gamay Noir a jus Blanc, this European vine was planted in South Africa during the 1920s, and was selected due to its abundant grapes. Unlike the Pinot Noir, which it is sometimes compared to, Gamay Noir is a fast ripener, and is widely cultivated. It can also be a very strong wine, sometimes with too much acidity which can affect the flavour of the wine. Because of this harshness, Gamay Noir had been outlawed in Medieval Burgundy, and it has never really been as widely accepted as, for example, the Pinot Noir or the Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Gamay Noir can grow very vigorously, without deep roots. This leads to an over-abundance of grape production, and a high level of acidity. Most wine-makers tend to soften the feel of the Gamay Noir by mixing it with a large number of fruits and other sweeteners, which can make some drinkers feel as though it is more like ‘pop’. Some even call it the ‘bubblegum wine’, but this is almost certainly due to blending. The excessive amount of flavourings that Gamay Noir requires to reduce the harshness of the wine means that it can be rather more expensive than similar quality red wines.
Although South African farmers planted a great deal of the Gamay Noir vines in the 1920s, they quickly discovered that the fruit was not as consistent as some of the other plants, such as Cinsaut, which could also produce a larger crop. This lead to many Gamay Noir wine farms changing their production to Cinsaut, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Pinotage. Only since the 1980s has Gamay Noir seen a revival of its fortunes, with Nederburg producing a wine in 1985 which had been picked less than two months before. This attracted attention from other growers, but there has not really been enough take-up from the domestic market to really encourage wine farms to produce more Gamay Noir.
Due to the lack of domestic drinkers, and the expensive way in which the grape has to be softened before wine can be produced, the majority of Gamay Noir growers tend to use the grape in red wine mixes, and it is still rare to find a single varietal Gamay Noir wine produced in South Africa. For example, the Kleine Zalze Cellar in Stellenbosch is one such grower who produces a Gamay Noir Rosé and a Gamay Noir.
The wine is best drunk within a year or two of purchase, since it is not designed to last for a long time, and will not ‘mature’, as some other grapes do. Gamay Noir is a good accompaniment to white meats such as chicken, turkey or guinea fowl, and fish such as salmon. Both the rosé and the noir also go well with pasta dishes.