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09.10.2005

2001 Mas de Daumas de Gassac Rouge, Hérault (Languedoc), France

By volume, staggeringly over 3 billion bottles each year, I believe the Languedoc-Roussillon to be one of the largest appellations in the wine world. Up until recently, this massive portion of France's wine production was dismissed as the home to great quantities of, at best, mediocre wine. That, like so many things in the wine world, has changed over the last two or three decades. Like in Spain, producers are reducing yields and changing farming techniques to capitalize on their old vine stock, and winemakers from elsewhere in France and around the world are quietly (and not so quietly) buying up vineyards to produce some of the more interesting wines coming out of France today.

Longtime readers know that I have a particular interest in the Languedoc, and its subsections, especially the Minervois appellation. This is in no small part due to the influence of two individuals, Kermit Lynch and Robert Kacher, both of whom have been importing wines from the region for some time, and both of whom sold me wines that were unlike any that I had had from France at that time.

Kermit, in particular, was the source of many fantasies about this region of France. In his book, Adventures on the Wine Route, he describes the Languedoc:

"There is a wild, savage beauty to the landscape. stark and colorful at once, and the province abounds in medieval fortresses and cathedrals, impossible geologic gassac01.jpgformations, sandy Mediterranean beaches, and unpretentious cuisine. It is almost, but not quite, Provence. No, it is more austere, more Protestant, less passionate, less gay than Provence."
I like the idea of a place with the beauty but not the frivolity of Provence, someplace a bit more raw.

Certainly the best known winery in all of provence is Daumas De Gassac. Once called "the Lafite of the Languedoc" by one publication, and likened to Latour by another, this family run estate was literally wrought from the overgrown landscape of forest and brush by proprietor Aimé Guibert. Guibert now also has the distinction of being one of the few French winemakers that people all over the world could recognize on the street, thanks to his role as the "old world" foil to the dastardly forces of globalization in the wine documentary Mondovino.

The irony of that portrayal, of course, is that by any standard Guibert and his family and his vineyard are relative newcomers to wine, and to this region of France.

Daumas de Gassac's first vintage was in 1978, after a herculean effort to transform a beautiful patch of landscape in the hills near the small village of Gignac into vineyards. Guibert, a passionate and poetic man, as evidenced in the aforementioned documentary, was not only determined and steadfast in his desire to grow grapes there, but also determined to buck the conventions of winegrowing and winemaking in the region. For starters, Guibert planted Cabernet Sauvignon, of all things, in a region where the total production of that grape when he planted it must have been close to zero. What's more, Guibert, apparently inspired by the unique soil of his vineyards, set out to make a grand cru style wine, or as the French would say a vin de garde by employing the techniques of top Bordeaux producers.

Again, from Kermit Lynch:

"An undertaking of such dimension would be greeted with a ho-hum in California, where Hollywood moguls in their spare time create wines to rival the grands crus of France, but in France, itself it is unheard of -- France where domaines normally pass from father to sun and tradition determines matters such as grape variety, cultivation, and vinification. What Guibert has set out to do simply is not done, creating something out of nothing, and creating something not at all typique de la région at that!"
Guibert didn't stop at Cabernet, however. Over his roughly 70 acres of vineyards he has planted, among other things: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Chardonnay, Viognier, Petite Manseng, Marsanne, Roussane, Chenin Blanc, and Muscat.

In addition to this red wine Daumas de Gassac also produces a white, both of which the estate refers to as Les Grands Crus and labels as Mas de Gassac (starting in 2001 Guibert has also been making a small production cuvee named after Guibert's friend Emile Peynaud which might be considered the estate's top wine). In addition to these, Guibert also makes wines that are labeled Moulin de Gassac and which represent more typical regional blends of varietals, both red and white.

This particular wine is approximately 80% Cabernet Sauvignon with the other 20% being made up a mix of varietals that makes even the most upstanding Chateauneuf-du-Pape nervous -- Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Malbec, Tannat, Grenache, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, and reputedly several grape varieties native to such well known wine regions as Armenia and Georgia. The wine undergoes a long slow fermentation (sometimes up to three weeks) and then is aged in French oak barrels, though for how long, I'm not sure -- I would guess at least 18 months. It is fined only with egg whites, and bottled unfiltered.

Tasting Notes:
Medium ruby in color, with a hint of blood red at the rim of the glass, this wine has a complicated nose of leather, cherries, sandalwood, loam, and just the barest floral notes hanging above it all. In the mouth it is beautifully balanced and silky on the tongue with primary flavors of cherries, damp earth, and crushed stones, and secondary flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg mixed with plums. The wine has subtle, complex tannins (which were frankly softer than I would have expected given all the hype about this being a "massive wine" ) and the finish is fairly long and satisfying. Over the course of 30 hours, this wine developed more plum flavors, which was a nice surprise.

Food Pairing:
Though the most conservative recommendation would be to pair this with anything you'd drink a Bordeaux with (i.e. red meats and game), I actually think this is a fabulous wine for slightly lighter fare. I'd recommend it, for instance, with these veal scallops with wild mushroom, mustard, and tarragon sauce.

Overall Score: 9.5

How Much?: $45

This wine available for purchase on the Internet.

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