When one thinks of a “powerful” wine, the first images that come to mind are the fruit forward Cabernets from California or the jammy Shirazes from Australia. And there’s no doubt that those wines€”with their frequent high-alcohol levels and broad shoulders€”do make a big impression.

But power comes in many forms. You have 6’5″ Lennox Lewis, but you also have 5’5″ Manny Pacquiao; you have Thor, but you have Captain Marvel. I was thinking of this when I tucked into a few local Gamays. It’s a grape whose lightness is always emphasized, making people think it’s not “powerful”… but I defy anyone to try any of these three wines, with their pronounced acidity and enviable structure and not think of them as badass in their own right.

I can assure you: when it comes to doing battle with a rich dinner, their acidity will triumph over the Cali fruit any time.

Haywire Gamay 2019 $28

I love this wine. It was the inspiration for this article because one sip in, I was in awe of its restrained power. Yes, it’s lighter in body than Cabernet, but it makes a statement with  super-clean, super-sharp acidity that guides notes of crisp raspberry and white pepper. It also has tannins that are far more present than in most North American Gamays, and they provide some nice, noticeable guidelines that will ensure this wine will age exceptionally well for this variety.

Finally, I love that they just call it “Gamay,” not the more-common-in-B.C. “Gamay Noir,” which, while technically, always sounded like an overly formal moniker for a grape we should be far more familial (and familiar) with.

Road 13 Gamay Noir 2020 $22

$22? Are you kidding me? It’s been a few years since Anthony von Mandl purchased Road 13, and just like at CedarCreek, the union has been an absolute boon for wine lovers.

They doubled down on their commitment to grapes like Gamay and Chenin Blanc€”which I’m sure require some extra effort to sell to a skeptical public€”but which are absolute rockstars in their vineyards.

This Gamay is a bit more approachable than the Haywire. The acidity is toned down a tad, the raspberry (joined here by strawberry and red cherry) a little more ripe, but this is still a lean, mean fighting-machine of a wine. This is literally one of the most versatile wines for food pairing in the Okanagan, and I know that sounds like hyperbole€”especially for a $22 wine€”but it’s not. 

Any Gamay from Bella $33-40

Okay, let’s start with the bad news. All the sparkling Gamays offered by Jay Drysdale’s wonderful Naramata winery are long sold out. Sorry about that. It’s one of the wineries that have a much sought-after production that goes early, so joining their wine club is not a bad idea. On the plus side, they have a very healthy restaurant presence, so you can often find their bottles at cool spots across the West. And their Sparkling Gamays from the Cavada, Mariani and Westbank are real wonders. Here, you have a variations on wonderful boldness, some red currant, some crisp apple€”I’ve been drinking the different variations for several years and I’m still waiting for a dud to appear, and it never does.