Gamaret, Mandragore 2013, Domaine du Clos des Pins, Dardagny, Geneva
I was introduced to this wine by the sommelier at Le Philanthrope, an excellent new restaurant near Plainpalais in Geneva, as a potential match for a course of raw milk cheeses. Two things militated against his suggestion: I prefer white wine with cheese and I’m not the biggest fan of gamaret and its tendency for vegetative sweetness. After a bit of deliberation, and since the rest of the evening was an unqualified success, I decided to bite the bullet and take his advice. I’m glad I did.
Gamaret is an interspecies cross created at the Agroscope Research Station in Pully in 1970 from the vinifera varieties gamay and reichensteiner. Pully B-13, as it was known then, was conceived with disease resistance in mind but also came with side benefits: early ripening properties, for one, and a dark purple color perfectly attuned to its other avowed purpose, to bulk up lighter Swiss reds. Its two siblings, garanoir (Pully B-28) and mara (Pully C-41), are genetically identical but bred for slightly different attributes.
Gamaret is most commonly associated with the vineyards of Geneva and Vaud where the bulk of its 425 hectares are planted but is also found in Valais and Ticino. Garanoir and its 225 hectares are mostly found in the Swiss-German cantons. Mara is scarcely planted at all with a mere 10 hectares in existence.
As powerful evidence of its usefulness, gamaret is now a permitted component of several AOP’s in France—notably in Beaujolais since 2009—but also in the Languedoc, the Loire Valley and Provence. It has also made inroads in Italy and is finding particular favor in the mountain vineyards of Aosta. It is most suited to cool climate locales and less successful in hot and dry conditions. Higher altitude vineyards in continental locations appear to be an ideal habitat.
In its short commercial life, gamaret has proven popular among vignerons and consumers alike. Because it is so highly resistant to rot some intrepid Swiss growers have allowed it to remain on the vine past the point of phenolic ripeness. By doing so, they parlay an added softening of its hefty tannins without a loss of acidity, a spike in sugar, or a loss of freshness. Others noticed that it developed well in barriques and larger wood formats with added layers of texture and complexity as reward. Consequently, gamaret has gained favor in Switzerland as a stand alone variety for those in search of a darker, fuller-bodied native.
Gamaret is notable for its vivid purple/crimson color and virtual opacity. It is heady with black fruit and beetroot aromatics and saturated, sometimes cloying, flavors. As a frame of reference think Dornfelder, blaufrankish, refosco or any other variety with a potent geosmin profile, robust flavors and saturated colors. The bad news is that when not skillfully handled gamaret can be exhausting to drink: mostly one dimensional, sometimes too muddy and vegetal, and in many iterations too sweet.
This particular gamaret convinces me that those shortcomings are vineyard and winemaker specific and do not fairly represent the potential of the variety. More examples like this should make the case that gamaret is ready for prime time.
Domaine du Clos des Pins is a small winery in the Dardagny suburb of Geneva. It has been connected to the Ramu family since 1321 and is today manned by Marc Ramu who was responsible for planting gamaret in 1990. An important form of validation occurred in 2015 when the Mandragore cuvée was invited to join the prestigious Mémoire des Vins Suisses collection as a top example of the variety.
This one is typically dark purple with some garnet highlights at the rim. Just beginning its visual metamorphosis. It opens potent on the nose with some secondary notes of spice and meat but mostly loaded-up on smashed blackberry and rhubarb. Saturated beetroot flavors with blackberry, licorice and sweet spices. Somewhat Rhone-like but cooler, fresher, sweeter and softer. Lushly textured, thick and sweet, but cunningly dry to finish. Really very good.