This Thursday, the beaujolais nouveau public relations circus begins. Each year, journalists enthusiastically recycle stories about this simple red wine that's allegedly transported by every means possible - including elephant and helicopter - to reach its global fans by the third Thursday of November. By encouraging these unorthodox distribution techniques, the beaujolais public-relations teams have ensured their wine becomes the talk of the town every November. Not bad for an inexpensive fruity wine (which sells for HK$100 to HK$120) made from the relatively unknown grape variety, gamay. Gamay is not new to the press corps: it was first publicised in the 1400s. Confusingly, the full name of this dark grape - which produces an exuberantly purple wine - is gamay noir a jus blanc, which translates as 'black gamay to white juice'. No wonder the marketing team had to roll up their sleeves. Early 20th-century spin doctors in California weren't slackers either. Saddled with promoting the unwieldy-named Valdeguie variety, they promptly dubbed it Napa gamay, a moniker they are now required to phase out by 2007. Still cheekily appearing on California labels is the name 'gamay beaujolais', a term attached to an early ripening clone of pinot noir. This designation is not too off-base: gamay is thought to be an old mutation of pinot noir, though gamay is much stronger and fruitier. Viticulturists treasure gamay more for its reproductive enthusiasm than its elegant quality. The grape's abundant yield, easy cultivation and early ripening made it a favourite among villagers in France's Burgundy region recovering from the Black Death in the 14th century. Gamay is thought to have made its debut in the 1360s in the village of Gamay at the southern tip of Burgundy. By 1395, dismayed that this inferior variety was usurping prime pinot noir sites, Philippe the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, outlawed the cultivation of gamay declaring it 'a very bad and disloyal plant'. Sixty years later, Philippe the Good strengthened the ban by stating, 'The Dukes of Burgundy are known as the lords of the best wines in Christendom. We will maintain our reputation.' It seems that spin doctoring was alive and well in the 14th century. Gamay is easy to spot due to its youthful fruit, boisterous cranberry flavours and lack of oak handling. Few producers bother to mature this variety in oak barrels as it rarely develops the finesse and complexity to justify the expense. Notable exceptions are the wines labeled 'cru beaujolais', which are derived from the 10 finest gamay vineyards in Beaujolais, a small district in southern Burgundy. Top sites include Fleurie, Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent and Saint-Amour. Good-quality cru beaujolais is not to be confused with the lighter, fruitier beaujolais nouveau hitting our shelves this week. The first French wine to be released from the year's grape harvest, this youthful wine becomes legal this Thursday. Stop press.