Our Languedoc resident and columnist describes his favourite vintages from the renowned Mas de Daumas Gassac estate in the region.

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This is an edited version of Andrew Jefford’s column on Daumas Gassac wines first published in Decanter’s June 2014 issue. It has been edited for Decanter.com following the death of Daumas Gassac founder Aimé Guibert.

How to understand Mas de Daumas Gassac wines

It was an impressive sight: 30 wines, ready poured for each taster, and there were 30 of those; the scent of 900 glasses of wine perfumed the room.

Could any other Languedoc domaine put on a tasting like this? And how many Bordeaux or Burgundy producers would put on a tasting like this, even if they could?

There’s an irony about Daumas Gassac being a Languedoc superstar, as few red wines are less typical of the region. they’re sui generis: the sensorial offspring not merely of a place, but of a historical moment, of a fierce will and of a curious, non-conformist vision, too.

There are four key facts to grasp if you want to understand the Daumas Gassac wine style.

1.The Gassac valley is, for Languedoc, high and cool: 250m to 550m above sea level.

Mas de Daumas Gassac vineyards, Languedoc

A view across Mas de Daumas Gassac vineyards. Credit: Daumas Gassac.

2. The blend is based on approximately 70% Cabernet Sauvignon. But, the balance of the wine comes from up to 24 other grape varieties, including the plausible Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carmenere and Malbec, but also the mysterious Tannat, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Tempranillo, Baga, Saperavi, Bastardo and others. This salmagundi is picked at the beginning of the harvest period, with the Cabernet coming in at the end, so it brings a spectrum of mixed ripeness to the wine.

Mas de Daumas Gassac wines, Languedoc, France

3. The Guiberts don’t believe in leaf-thinning: they prefer a generous canopy.

Mas de Daumas Gassac, Gassac Valley, Languedoc

4. Vinification practices are based on Emile Peynaud principles; Bordeaux pre-Michel Rolland, in other words, and pre-stéphane Derenoncourt. Stainless-steel fermentations, with a short maceration for the other varieties and a longer one for the Cabernet, before light oak ageing – 12 to 14 months; never more than 15% new oak and three to four rackings.

Mas de Daumas Gassac barrel room, Languedoc

Mas de Daumas Gassac barrel room. Credit: Daumas Gassac.

There is, therefore, almost none of the hedonistic richness common in leading Languedoc reds, including other Cabernet sauvignon wines (like, for example, the powerful Lo Molin cuvée of Hildegard Horat and alioune Diop at La Grange de Quatre sous near assignan); nor of the sensual, richly textured style of much contemporary Bordeaux.

What the Daumas Gassac wine style tastes like

The 13.8% alcohol found in the Mas de Daumas 2011 was the highest ever; as recently as 2007 and 2005, the wine was bottled at 12.9% and 12.6% respectively.

These reds have modest tannin indices, fresh though harmonious natural acid levels, and a low pH; under 3.5, for example, in 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010, which I doubt was true of any Bordeaux cru classé in the same vintages.

They are lightly proportioned and sometimes even petite by Languedoc standards, and their aromatic profiles are often discreet.

If you’ve never tried Mas de Daumas before, it’s possible to be underwhelmed on the first occasion; I suspect that even expert tasters would struggle to pick them out as Languedoc reds in a blind flight of global Cabernet blends.

These pure, limpid, fresh red wines, though, drink very attractively. as this tasting proved, they also age very well, carried through time by their balance and poise.

My favourite Mas de Daumas Gassac vintages

Daumas Gassac wines maturing in the cellars, Languedoc

Daumas Gassac wines maturing in the cellars. Credit: Daumas Gassac.

I prefer rich wines, and my highest scores went to 1982, 1983, 1990, 2003, 2010 and 2012. The 2009, 1998 and 1995 vintages were memorable, too.

Those two early great years were carried by a glowing and now mellow natural ripeness; the 1983 had an ampler tannic structure, while the 1982 had greater wealth of fruit.

There was then a run of weaker vintages in the later 1980s before the magnificent 1990, with its forest and tobacco-leaf complexities and soft, digestible, milky fruit, peaking gorgeously now [2014 – ed.].

The 1995 was clean, well-preserved and pristine; while the 1998 had an exotic, incense-like spiciness typical of that year.

The 2003 was comforting: warm stones and cooked fruit on the nose, with greater wealth and width on the palate than usual.

The estate’s future ‘looks in good hands’

Inside the Mas de Daumas Gassac estate, Languedoc

Inside the Mas de Daumas Gassac estate. Credit: Daumas Gassac.

Recent vintages are exciting: a creamy, round- contoured 2009, without any of the corpulence you find elsewhere. And a dense and vivid 2010; while I don’t recall such pure, athletic fruit and such a focused aromatic spectrum in a young Daumas Gassac as you can find in the 2012.

Fine work from the new generation: Languedoc’s singleton looks in good hands.

For more detail on Daumas Gassac, read Alastair Mackenzie’s 1995 book Daumas Gassac: The Birth of a Grand Cru

Editing for Decanter.com by Chris Mercer.

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