Mas de Daumas Gassac – ultimate proof that terroir matters: Richard Esling August 11
There is a wine produced in the depths of the wild hills of the Languedoc in southern France, which, despite overuse of the term, can only be described as iconic.
This is Mas de Daumas Gassac, and the red wines produced at this estate are truly outstanding. Known widely throughout the wine trade and wine circles – those ‘in the know’ so to speak, it is a name which has stuck with me forever.
When I was studying for the Master of Wine exams, some 20 years ago, I was a poor, independent wine importer from the sticks. Those based in London and subsidised by the large wine companies of the establishment, would often bring up the name during blind tastings, as a possible contender for one of the wines from around the globe, that we were trying vainly to identify. Once showing my ignorance of the said wine, I was immediately castigated as a ‘know nothing’ from rural Sussex!
Mas de Daumas Gassac was founded in 1971 by the Guibert family, who stumbled by chance on a unique terroir, with similarities to soils in both Grand Cru Burgundy and Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux. This terroir – a combination of soil, topography and micro-climate – has given rise to what many call the Premier Grand Cru of the Languedoc. The red wines are truly unique, using an extraordinary blend of grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Syrah, Tannat, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Grenache, used in varying proportions depending on the vintage.
With great respect for nature and the environment, rather than one large expanse of monoculture vineyard, 67 vineyard plots are scattered amongst the scrubland of the garrigue, with all the myriad Mediterranean herbs and wild plants adding to the character of the wines. The balance of nature is thus preserved in this magical land and the resultant wine is elegant and hugely complex, with some vintages capable of ageing 30 years or more, yet often still approachable in their youth (five years plus).
The vineyards are all organic and wine-making is completely natural. Fermentation is slow and long, with ageing in oak barrels, light fining and no filtration, similar to wine making in the Medoc. Indeed the world renowned Bordeaux ‘wine-god’, Professor Emile Peynaud, had some influence on production methods at Mas de Daumas Gassac.
Different vintages are available from a number of wine suppliers and currently The Wine Society has the 2014 vintage at £25 per bottle – a bargain for this quality. With aromas of blackberries and mulberries, this full-bodied wine has tremendous complexity and striking elegance. Aromas of leather and tobacco follow through on the palate, to a long, silky finish.
So here is your chance to impress your friends and neighbours with your startling knowledge and ability to source lesser known wines which vie with the greats of Bordeaux on quality terms.
Even more impressive is the special Mas de Daumas Gassac Cuvée Emile Peynaud 2015. However, you will need to lay this down a few years before drinking and have substantially deeper pockets. £195 per bottle.