Friday, 7 July 2017

Languedoc Greatness

Producer: Mas de Daumas Gassac

This week I tasted a Cabernet blend from the 1982 vintage that was in perfect condition and showing all of the weathered complexity that only age can deliver. It’s like looking into a careworn face and appreciating every crease the years have bestowed. From that statement you may be tempted to guess that it was a great Bordeaux, perhaps even a first growth, but this wine was in fact made in the humble Languedoc region in the south of France. Narrowing down the producer is an easier task. There is only one that makes such long-lived Cabernet – Mas de Daumas Gassac, sometimes referred to as the Grand Cru of the Languedoc.

Basile Guibert represents the second generation to run this winery along with his three brothers. He is based in Singapore now and in charge of the Asia market. He says that there are enough people back home to do the winemaking, although he still travels back to lend a hand during harvest season. A cherubic and perennially sunny ambassador, he apologised twice during our session for having forgotten to bring some wines. I can’t say I fault him, because even though I am usually meticulous during tastings, this time I accidently hit the wrong button on my voice recorder and as a result am forced to type out my recollection of events from memory (although thankfully my impressions of the wine were written down).

Mas de Daumas Gassac was established in the 1970s by Véronique and Aimé Guibert. They were encouraged by geologist Henri Enjalbert, who after analysing the soil of the vineyard told them of the great potential it possessed. However Aimé was not fond of using the traditional grapes of the Languedoc, opting instead to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and a smattering of other varieties. The first red wine, made in 1978, was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and Malbec, and could only be labelled as a table wine. Theoretically this is a category reserved for the cheapest wines, but the wine proved to be a black swan and started garnering widespread acclaim.

The Mas de Daumas Gassac website is a wealth of technical information, providing precise percentages of grape varieties for every single wine. Yet the formula is never exactly the same, for example prior vintages of the red wine have had varying amounts of Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Syrah added to the core Cabernet Sauvignon. There are also minute amounts of rarely seen grapes such as Bastardo, Souzon and Tchkaveri. “We work with what nature gives us,” explains Basile. “The winemaking follows Bordeaux, but the wine itself is unique.” In recent years, Bordeaux has become enamoured of using new oak, resulting in wines that can have pretty strong toast and vanilla notes when young, but the wines of Mas de Daumas Gassac are more restrained and emphasise finesse more than power. Perhaps this is how the Bordeaux of the 1980s used to taste?

The white wines of Mas de Daumas Gassac, first released in 1986, proved to be a delight to drink as well. A blend like the red, it consists of varying proportions of Viognier, Petit Manseng, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, along with a mishmash of other lesser-known varieties. The first sip brings a smile, but the true marvel of the wine is its ability to unfurl as you slowly drink it. This may be due to the winemaking process – Basile explains that the juice is actively exposed to oxygen to get rid of volatile elements and make the final wine more resistant to oxidation.

You can obtain the wines in Singapore from their newly appointed distributor Vintage. Mas de Daumas Gassac also produces another range called Moulin de Gassac, meant for everyday drinking, but there is no doubt which I would rather spend my money on.

Tasting notes (note that the wines have started using the St Guilhem-le-Désert denomination from the 2011 vintage onwards):

Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc IGP St Guilhem-le-Désert - Cité d'Aniane 2016 – Utilising the four varieties Viognier, Petit Manseng, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc, this wine first opens with musk melon and honey before revealing a background of green herbs and apricot. It is well-knit with freshness throughout and an incredible finish.

Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc IGP St Guilhem-le-Désert - Cité d'Aniane 2013 – Even better than the 2016, the difference lies in the residual sugar of 12.2g (nearly double that of the 2016) which gives a more pronounced fruitiness to the wine. The honeyed note is evident here and there is a lovely soft and silky texture to this wine accompanied by notes of apricot and straw. A real treat, and a wine to savour slowly.

Mas de Daumas Gassac IGP St Guilhem-le-Désert - Cité d'Aniane 2011 – Young with luxurious fruit showing the elegance and concentration of Cabernet Sauvignon. Very approachable with sweet tannins.

Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l’Hérault 2010 – A slightly earthy nose reminiscent of clay with sweet black fruit – blackcurrant and black cherry. Sophisticated with lovely grip and smooth mouthfeel.

Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l’Hérault 2008 – Showing some fine sediment, this wine is smooth and mature like an old Bordeaux. Perfect balance with tea leaf and tobacco notes. An elegant and suave wine.

Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l’Hérault 2007 – Mid brick garnet with sediment with strong tobacco, cigar box and tea leaf, evolving into roasted coffee with some airing. Not quite enough fruit here though. Sturdy but ripe tannins provide textural grip.

Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l’Hérault 1982 – Deep garnet with an enticing nose wafting hints of cigar and cedar wood. The palate is fully mature and smooth, very much in the mold of an austere and majestic Bordeaux. Still a very rich, vibrant wine with earthy notes and savoury tannins.

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