by Fred McMillin
for September 23, 1997

The Duke and the Gamay


  • 1395—The Duke of Burgundy, Philippe the Bold, says, "The Gamay is an outlaw...whose wine is foul and harmful to human beings. All plants must be destroyed."

    ...from "Vintage" by Hugh Johnson

  • 1676—The same architects who designed Versailles lay out what will be the largest chateau-estate in the Beaujolais area. It is Chateau de La Chaize in the district of Brouilly (brew-yee).

  • 1988—"Brouilly is among the most agreeable red wines in the world."

    ...from "The New Schoonmaker Encyclopedia of Wine"

The Rest of the Story: How did that "foul" Gamay wine become one of the world's most agreeable? Well, the Duke's ban forced the vine south to the village of Beaujeu (hence the name Beaujolais). The Gamay took a great liking to the local soil, which was decomposed granite instead of the Duke's limestone. Also, a different winemaking method evolved. Bunches of uncrushed grapes were put in a sealed vat, and a different type of slow fermentation occurred. Voila! You have a remarkably fruit-laden red wine...highly "agreeable."

The best Beaujolais is made in the ten Grand Cru communes. Brouilly is the largest of the ten. La Chaize is the largest estate in Brouilly. Its Beaujolais is large, too...more intense than much of the competition. Both the beginners and veterans in my classes give this one a Highly Recommended rating...So, when you try this sip of history, how about a toast to the Duke of Burgundy, who inadvertently got the Gamay on the right track.

The Wine
1995 Chateau de La Chaize Brouilly
Grand Vin du Beaujolais, France
Service—Put it in the frig for 40 to 60 minutes before pouring.
Food Affinities—Ham, veal, smoked turkey, pasta dishes
Importer—Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines
Contact—Angela Freire, (707)255-7667

Postscript: Pasta and Gamay have more in common than just a taste compatibility. About the time the Duke banned the Gamay, the first commercial pasta, vermicelli, was produced in Italy.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

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