It was ten years ago when Mas de Daumas Gassac in Aniane, Languedoc Rousillon in Southern France, last held a vertical tasting, a chance to taste different vintages of a same wine. Last Saturday, fifteen wine writers from around the world were invited to taste 23 of their wines from 1987 to 2017.
I was delighted to be invited to participate in this unique event as it was an opportunity to see how the wines had evolved over time and taste the young wines that were just starting out on their journey.
The Mediterranean region of the Languedoc was not known for producing top quality wines. However, Aimé Guibert, who founded the winery in 1972 with his wife Véronique, was a visionary in his belief of making world class wines that could compete with the finest in the world. The soils and unique microclimate make it possible to ripen white grapes with sufficient natural acidity to make wine that can age and develop over time.
Aime passed away last year but his four sons, who now run the business, are dedicated to continuing his work in the pursuit of making excellent wines while working with a deep respect for the natural habit and in the words Basile Guibert, “to respect the living soil and let nature do its work”.
The percentage of each grape variety used to make Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc changes every year depending on the vintage. However, there is a distinctive house style that makes these wines stand out from any others.
The four principal grape varieties are Viognier, Petit Manseng, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. The vineyards contain plots of a wide array of lesser known imported grapes such as Amigne, a variety native to Switzerland, Sercial, from the island of Madeira, Neherleschol, a grape that I had never heard of before from Israel, Tchilar from Armenia, Falanghina from northern Italy and even Albariño from Galicia. A wine could include up to 17% from a blend of these grapes adding to the complexity and character to the wine.
A monastic like silence engulfed the brightly lit room as servers moved quietly and calmly pouring each wine until all 23 were served It was at this moment we began. A tasting such as this requires focussed concentration beginning with the youngest wine and working backwards. Observing, smelling, tasting and writing, highlighting the notable characteristics of each wine.
As you can imagine there was a huge difference between a wine that has recently been bottled from a wine that has spent 30 years in bottle. The colours evolved from bright lemon to pale lemon gold to a light caramel as the wines aged. Aromas and flavours also changed. The wines full of the exuberance of youthful energy, vibrant fruit and tangy acidity when young become more subdued as you ease into the older vintages where the wines develop a more full bodied complexity with dried fruit and honey characters.
There was a purity in the flavours of the wines that reflected the ‘terroir’ of the area and as one observer noted ‘the wines had soul’.
It was a hugely rewarding experience and one that I am eager to repeat in 10 years time.