March 11, 2011 Mas du Daumas Gassac
Mas du Daumas Gassac Rouge
cabernet sauvignon (80%), rare grape varieties (20%)
Mas du Daumas Gassac Rouge 2005
After returning from its photo op in Middle Cove, and with several hours of decanting, this deep, dark wine comes into its own — herb-infused crushed fruit, restrained but multi-layered. Medium in body, accessible and balanced, yet far from generic. It is earth-driven. While persistently flavourful, it doesn’t overwhelm. Seemingly ageless in its appeal. A wine for all seasons. More-ish. Likely even more more-ish if it had 10+ years in the cellar. $$
It has been said of Aimé Guibert that ‘for him love of family is the highest good.’ Then maybe there’s another side to him than what’s to be gathered from his memorable appearance in the documentary film ‘Mondovino’. When it comes to wine he is undoubtedly a man of strong opinions — as witnessed by his successful campaign against globalization and the Mondavi family’s attempted foray into the region — but there seems to be a bit of a charmer beneath that rough-edged public exterior. One cannot think that a wine as good as this could have made by a total curmudgeon.
Guibert, with roots in the Aveyron region in the south of France, was a prestigious manufacturer of leather gloves when in the early 1970s he and his ethonogist wife Véronique acquired a neglected farm owned by surviving members of the Daumas family. Situated near the Languedoc village of Aniane, and with the Gassac river running through it, the property stood in the middle of garrigue-laden scrubland and the Forest of Arboussas. The new owners were interested in a retreat from city life in Montpellier, with no intention of making wine. That all changed when a friend, the famous geologist Henri Enjalbert, came to visit and recognized in the site an exceptional terroir. Not only that, but one that had been farmed organically for generations. By 1974 the couple had planted their first vines — non-cloned cabernet sauvignon brought in from Bordeaux. Many other varietals would follow, although it would be the cabernet that would quickly establish the domaine’s reputation, with wines made under the eye of the eminent oenologist Emile Peynaud. Before long Mas du Daumas Gassac was being labelled ‘the Grand Cru of Languedoc’ and being spoken of in the same breath as Lafite and Latour.
The soil which had excited Enjalbert was red glacial dust, uncommon in Languedoc, and particularly suited to varietals, such as cabernet, which were not traditional to the area. The famous Mas du Daumas Gassac red falls outside the AOC designation, and has built its formidable reputation as a ‘Vin de Pays’. The common Languedoc grapes — syrah, cinsault, carignan — are nowhere to be seen, something which Guibert’s detractors have been quick to point out. Guibert would counter that wine growers must respond to terroir, not tradition, and that his is just not suited to these particular varietals.
There are 63 small parcels of vines making up 50 hectares. No less than 20 other varieties of red grapes and 20 varieties of white are grown. Following hand harvesting, the fruit is gravity fed into inoxidizable steel tanks for fermentation. The red sees but 5% new oak, very little of what the French call ‘maquillage’ (cosmetics) to dress up the wine for international markets. Rather the wine is given the chance to speak for itself and for the unique section of Languedoc from which it arises.
True to Guibert’s priorities, Mas du Daumas Gassac has become very much a family affair. Three of Guibert’s five sons — Samuel, Gaël and Roman — have assumed most of the running of the domaine, although one suspects the founding father is not without his timely pieces of advice. After all, Aimé Guibert knows what it is to test his opinions and come out the winner.