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What am I tasting?

Tasting Note

Posted February 09, 2018 Fresh and floral, with pure raspberry and wild strawberry fruit detailed with mineral, spice and white pepper accents. Hints of smoke and a tangy acidity dovetail on the lightly tannic finish.

And the answer is...


Varietal

We know that our mystery wine has red fruit, with some mineral and spice accents, backed by moderate acidity and light tannins. We can immediately eliminate Cabernet Sauvignon from our options, knowing that Cabernet is too dark-fruited and tannic to be our wine.

Nebbiolo is a contender based on its red fruit and floral characteristics, and its acidity, but its pronounced, grippy tannins would rarely be described as "light," and its signature tar note is missing. While Tempranillo can certainly show red fruit and bright acidity as well, our note is missing the herbaceous and earthy aromas that it would likely show, and white pepper is uncommon for Tempranillo.

We are left with Gamay and Zinfandel. Zinfandel has the floral components and spice of our mystery wine, and while it typically also shows red berry fruit, the quality of the fruit tends to be riper than our note suggests, and sometimes veers into blue and black fruit.

Gamay, however, is safely in the bright red fruit realm, and hits all the notes here: floral with smoke, mineral and spice, light tannins and good acidity.

This wine is a Gamay.

Country

Now that we know our mystery wine is a Gamay, we can eliminate Spain from our list of possible countries of origin, as it is nearly impossible to find Gamay here.

There are Gamay plantings in both Australia and Italy, but the grape has yet to achieve any level of prominence in these countries. Gamay is gaining popularity in California, finding homes in Santa Barbara and El Dorado County. But California's Gamays generally show a richer, darker character than the wine in our note, with weightier tannins.

It is in France that a lighter style of Gamay is prominently made in several regions, showing fresh red fruit, spice and mineral flavors.

This Gamay is from France.

Age

Gamay is not often left to age very long before bottling. The fruit in our Gamay is still fresh, meaning our wine is young, but the complexity of the aromas could also point to a wine that's spent a little time integrating. Let's look at some recent vintages in France's Gamay-growing regions.

The 2013 vintage saw a cool spring with plenty of rain that delayed flowering in prominent regions like Beaujolais. The resulting wines are more dark-fruited and herbal. 2014 was also cool and rainy, making for a particularly challenging vintage. These Gamays can also demonstrate a darker character, with gamy and earthy notes.

But the 2015 vintage saw nearly perfect weather conditions across most of France, leading to steady ripening for Gamay; the wines show red fruit, minerality and distinct spice aromas, as well as vibrant acidity. Early-summer heat in 2016 made way for wines with similar red fruit and acidity, but with additional earthy and herbal notes, such as tea and anise.

Looking at the slight age, bright acidity, red-fruit character and spice in our note, we can gather that our wine best matches the Gamays of 2015.

This wine is from the 2015 vintage, making it three years old.

Appellation

Knowing that our Gamay is from France, we can eliminate Australia's Clare Valley, Italy's Piedmont, California's Santa Barbara County and Spain's Rioja from our appellation options. This leaves the two French appellations of Languedoc-Roussillon and Beaujolais.

Languedoc-Roussillon, in the south of France, has a very warm climate that would make growing the thin-skinned Gamay there difficult. It's a region that is best-known for its sturdier blends of Grenache, Syrah and other southern French varieties.

But Gamay is the primary grape grown in the region of Beaujolais, where it is made in several styles depending on the appellation, but often shows fresh red fruit like strawberry and raspberry, floral, mineral and spice qualities, as well as light tannins and citrus-like acidity.

This Gamay is from Beaujolais-Villages.

Wine

This wine is the Michel Tête Beaujolais-Villages Domaine du Clos du Fief La Roche 2015, which scored 90 points in the Aug. 31, 2017, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $17, and 200 cases were imported. For more information on the wines of Beaujolais, read associate editor Gillian Sciaretta's most recent Tasting Highlights on the region.

Collin Dreizen, assistant tasting coordinator

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