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Other Noir

The complicated story behind a wine of simple pleasures

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Le Valdiguié est arrivé!

Le who? For decades, the fruity, straightforward wines from the recent vintage in the Beaujolais region of France were advertised in the third week in November with the slogan, "Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!"

Just in time for Thanksgiving, nouveau is a sensible choice for pairing with light fowl and a variety of earthy accoutrements. But while you can still find it here and there, this kind of wine is now popular only in "very unsophisticated wine markets," according to sharp-tongued British wine critic Jancis Robinson. Ouch.

Meanwhile, the California wine that used to be called "Gamay Beaujolais" received a calling-out of its own in recent decades. Most, if not all, domestic wines labeled as Gamay were made from the so-called Napa Gamay grape, now brought to heel under its true name, Valdiguié. It's an ironic comedown, as the true grape of Beaujolais, Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc, was itself once booted out of Burgundy for being more juicy and productive than His Royal Highness, Pinot Noir.

Duxoup 2015 Nancy's Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Gamay Noir ($19.50) Andy Cutter makes 124 cases of this wine from a half-acre vineyard on the home property. Despite the name, it's likely that this is, in fact, Valdiguié, which the Cutters have been making since 1981. Deep ruby, fragrant with scents of olallieberry wine and overripe arbor grapes, this plushly fruited wine reminds me of strawberry and mixed berry fruit wrap and shoe leather, topped off with vanilla and blueberry notes over soft, furry tannins. Fun, fine and much more like the Jadot, below, than the other Valdiguié wines.

Paul Mathew 2013 Turner Vineyard Knights Valley Valdiguié ($20) Get this while you can—this is the Gustafsons' last vintage, for now, of this lighter-bodied, sandalwood incense-scented fowl-friendly wine. The fruit is sweet going in, like a packet of strawberry jam for a Continental breakfast, but dry going out.

Topel 2013 Battuello Vineyard Napa Valley Gamay ($38) This is also Valdiguié, and shares light-bodied and strawberry preserve characteristics with the Paul Mathew, with a more musky, leathery note. Chocolate mint and iron notes keep the light, blackberry fruit firm.

Louis Jadot 2015 Beaujolais-Villages ($10–$14) The ringer in this roundup, the Jadot is a super-solid Beaujolais. Purple-tinged, vanilla and blackberry tea-scented, it's heady and grapey, and a fine representation of the region for the price.

Less than four tons of the "true" Gamay were crushed last year in the North Bay, according to the 2015 Grape Crush Report, and some 59 tons of Napa Gamay—some of the most food-friendly wines that are yet to "arrive."

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