Magazine July-August 2014 By Raoul SALAMA MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC, HOME OF LANGUEDOC’S MOST BORDEAUX LIKE WINE, FACES THE TEST OF TIME Founded by the charismatic Aimé Guibert in the ‘70s, this Aniane domaine is one of the few in the Languedoc able to present 30 vintages at a single tasting. An occasion to revisit this legend. Everyone has heard of Mas de Daumas Gassac ! It’s true that the communicative Aimé Guibert de la Vaissière, the brilliant pioneer of the Hérault valley, has been able to attract huge media attention by producing thoroughly untypical Languedoc wines in a concealed, unknown valley. Withdrawn from his original glove making profession, he called for advice from some of Bordeaux’s leading experts. Firstly, Professor Enjalbert, led the way by suggesting planting Cabernet Sauvignon vines in this Mediterranean terroir. That was in 1971, early in the adventure, and the Cabernet Sauvignon was planted the following year. Then, in 1978, came advice from Emile Peynaud (who visited the domaine once), and to whom, Aimé Guibert dedicated a special 2001 vintage as a sign of his gratitude : a pure Cabernet Sauvignon produced from the finest land parcels planted in 1972. GUIBERT’s Family : Aimé, Véronique, Samuel, Roman et Basile Guibert A new Era Aimé Guibert will be 90 in November. Since early this century, the second generation has taken up the baton (details opposite). A gradual, painless transfer. Some observers, however, reckon that the Mas de Daumas Gassac is no longer what it was in the early days. Diversifying into more general markets (buying grapes from cooperatives) and selling them under the brand name Moulin de Gassac, may have dented its image for great wines. Or it may have simply have diluted the attention its origins attracted. So, it was time to take stock. This year was the time to hold the vertical tasting which takes place every ten years. But apart from judging the evolution of various vintages, we realised that few domaines, even outside the Languedoc, were capable of presenting such a range of 30 vintages. Looking back is important, Daumas Gassac reds have been conceived to be laid down. They need a good 10 – 15 years for the tannins to become fine. In contrast with current fashion (easy sugar, woodiness …) they need patience, experience … even introspection. True wine lovers understand this and by their faithfulness never miss an opportunity to add water to this mill. ABOUT THE TASTING The tasting took place at the domaine in February 2014. Thirty vintages from 1979 to 2012 were served simultaneously in identical glasses and without being decanted: the only ones missing were 1986, 1993, 1996 and 1999. In this report we have divided them into five themes: favourite vintages, those with potential, great surprises, vintages to drink now, and those past their best. Finally it’s worth noting that from its origins as a Vin de Pays de I'Hérault, in 2011, the Mas Daumas Gassac became an IGP Saint Guilhem-le-Désert Cité d'Aniane. FAVOURITE VINTAGES 18,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1982 The vintage discovered by the press. In spite of the youth of the vines, the wine has a lot of depth. Superb on the eye. Strong and full in the mouth. 18/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1988 Undoubtedly the most ‘classic’ vintage in the Bordeaux style. Perfect balance. No sign of going off. Excellent length. 17,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 2011 Difficult to predict its future with certainty, but is definitely right up there in an excellent year in the Languedoc. Toasty/grilled hints. A tiny touch of bitterness. Rich, opulent. 17/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1990 Rounded and full. It’s all there : elegance, length, aromatic complexity. Thoroughly distinguished, without showing off ! 17/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1998 In some way this is the most Daumas Gassac of all. Archetypal or synthesized, not sure. Swings towards tertiary on nose. Take your time drinking it. 16,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 2003 One might have feared too much astringency or early development: no at all. Tannins present but mature. Great expectations. 16,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1994 Very attractive wine. Grapes harvested just before rain, in a year that contrasted strongly with elsewhere in France. Those who bought it ‘en primeur’ (approx 70 Francs at the time !) made a good deal. 15/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 2007 Similar aromatically with the 2011, less explosive however. More mineral too. A slight tendency to a dry end. VINTAGES WITH POTENCIAL 17/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 2005 The least Cabernet Sauvignon of the range (63%), just after the 1987 (62%). Empyreumatic nose. The Cabernet’s lack of phenolic maturity is largely compensated for by the other varieties. 17/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 2009 Sunny, with a deep colour and distinct ‘sugar’. Shimmering on the eye, rounded mouth, good tannins. Thoroughly charming ! 16,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1989 Incredibly, the nose still seem closed. Aromas coming through slowly. Dense. Not sure it will ever totally come through ! 16/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 2010 Lots of fruit, on the nose as well as in the mouth. Hints of garrigue herbs and cherry. Good potential coming through at the end. 15,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 2006 Tight nose, mouth still a bit closed. Good prognostic as the alcohol and dry extract are well balanced. Keep for at least a minimum of 3 – 5 years. 15/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 2008 Homogenous wine but a touch sharp. A hint of green pepper (pyrazine) which comes through as the Cabernet matures. 13,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 2012 Relatively light in colour. High proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon (76%). Risks fast evolution. FOUR BROTHERS IN AIMÉ GUIBERT’S FOOTSTEPS Four of Véronique et Aimé Guibert’s sons work on the property. Samuel (the eldest, 41) arrived in 2000 having spent seven years in Australia and New Zealand : divides his time between Aniane and San Francisco. He handles vinification and export. Gaël supervises finances and the vineyard. Roman manages the day to day business with special emphasis on the French market. The Asian, especially Chinese, markets have been devolved to Basile, (the youngest, 29) who has recently returned home. Recently set up as a simplified joint-stock company with a rotating Chairman, transfer of assets to the second generation took place in 1999. The positive relationship between the brothers means that succession considerations and the future of the Mas are firmly on a back step. GREAT SURPRISES 17,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1995 Unlike the 1994, it rained during the 1995 harvest. Very tasty and incredibly young. 16,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 2004 Deeply coloured with a golden rim. Benefits from breathing. Terrific length, but at its present stage, decanting is recommended. 15,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 2001 Classy. Certainly not a great beast, but has lots of precision in its structure. More spirited than powerful. 15/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1984 Vintages with a ‘4’ are very successful at Daumas Gassac, unlike many other French wine producing areas. Delicate, subtle, elegant. To drink…and looking forward to the 2014 ! 14/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1991 Another vintage with a sad reputation. A touch volatile but not really a problem. Great life in the glass. TO DRINK NOW 15/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 2000 Seems seductive early on, but the mouth doesn’t match all the promises in the nose. Close to its peak. 15/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1997 Less complex and full than the 1998. Won’t gain much by laying down. 14,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1985 Relatively unusual nose. Very mineral (chalk). Little red fruit. It’s not impossible that our view might be due to the cleanliness of the glass or the quality of the sample. 14/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1992 Old style vinification. More or less uniform. Long and stiff. 14/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1987 A touch of menthol. Fresh. Analysis is close to the 1988, but not the taste. 13,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1983 A range of red fruit (prunes, blackberry) … a touch heavy. 12,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 2002 Lacks depth. Caught in pincers between 2001 and 2003. PAST THEIR BEST 13,5/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1981 Elusive, nose hard to identify. Mouth opens midway through. 13/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1980 Similar to 1981 in style, but more evolved. 12/20 • MAS DE DAUMAS GASSAC 1979 Nose not perfectly clean. Time for retirement. AN UNOAKED WHITE THAT WILL SURPRISE YOU AS IT AGES The Domaine also produces an excellent white, the first vintage in 1986. Made up of four principle grapes (Viognier, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng and white Chenin), there are also other more exotic varieties (petite Arvine, Sercial, the Israeli Neherleschol, Lebanese Khodorni or the Armenian Tchilar !) which are added, albeit mostly in homeopathic doses ! Unlike the red, the white is created around fruit, with the objective of being drunk relatively fast. Hence, no oak. The 2013 which has just been bottled is thoroughly flowery and fresh (around 35 €). But a totally different approach is to put it down for a long time. Proof is in the 1995 which is absolutely splendid at present and will delight the most expert palates. IN CONCLUSION Cabernet Sauvignon (60 – 80 % of grapes) plays a crucial role in creating the Daumas Gassac style. As well as other Atlantic varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) there are Tannat, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Syrah (absent since 2009) and other rare grapes which all add to its originality. One notices how the wines evolve as the vines grow older which means certain vintages have more depth and express the terroir more strongly. Recent vintages show more precision relative to extraction, but the great years still need putting down for 10 to 20 year to reach their peak. Their maturing is discreet and degrees of alcohol reasonable. To sum up, this icon of the Languedoc creates wines for true connoisseurs, sold directly, particularly en primeur, to individual customers. Experience shows that it is no cheaper several years later on merchants’ shelves.