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Gamay: NZ’s red answer to Sauvignon Blanc?

The winery that claims to be New Zealand’s only Gamay producer has suggested that this grape variety has scope to fulfil a similar role for the country as Sauvignon Blanc.

Nicholas Buck, CEO of Te Mata
Nicholas Buck, CEO of Te Mata

Speaking to the drinks business at a portfolio tasting of his company’s wines, Te Mata estate director Nicholas Buck put forward a strong case for the grape. “Not every wine has to be the last word in ageability and Gamay is just so drinkable,” he insisted.

Buck, who took over the helm at the Hawke’s Bay producer from his father last year, pointed to the success of New Zealand Pinot Noir as creating an opportunity for other lighter wine styles.

“Before Pinot Noir there wasn’t really much of a market in New Zealand for light reds,” he recalled. “The perception was that red wine should be black wine, 14% alcohol and pretty oaky.”

However, Buck continued: “Pinot Noir introduced the concept that red wine didn’t have to be a blockbuster; that’s been a good thing for all New Zealand and has allowed an opening for a wine like Gamay.”

Although Te Mata’s own single vineyard Gamay carries a relatively high-end price point of £17.99, Buck noted that an important part of the variety’s appeal lay in its ability to create enjoyable wine at an accessible cost.

By contrast, he observed, “Pinot Noir has a very high price point around the world but when it’s not good it tends to be one of the meanest wines – and it’s still expensive.”

As a result, Buck suggested: “You could have Pinot Noir for your icon wines, but then something more like Gamay, just as Beaujolais sits alongside Burgundy as a fruity, light red.”

Adding that the variety had “very, very broad suitability for most of the grape growing regions in New Zealand”, Buck argued for Gamay’s “very appealing role as an introduction for people to New Zealand.” Indeed, he maintained: “It fulfils a similar role to that which Sauvignon Blanc has carved for itself with whites from New Zealand.”

Although acknowledging that Gamay has yet to catch on among his fellow New Zealand winemakers, Buck revealed: “Just this year quite a serious producer came and asked us about buying some grapes.”

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