The hottest wine in France right now is not a bordeaux, not a burgundy and not even a bottle of bubbly champagne. It is a wine the French call a "Languedocian." For years, an ocean of hot, alcoholic, rather heavy wine has been produced from the region in south central France called the Languedoc. For years, adventurous wine importers have been canvassing this area trying to find something of quality.
Now, the search for the elusive good wine from the Languedoc has ended and this gap in quality has been plugged with a vengeance by a wine called Mas de Daumas Gassac.
The first wine, the 1978, released only a few years ago, was called by the highly prestigious English wine magazine Decanter "a serious challenger to anything produced in Bordeaux." The widely read French magazine Gault-Millau went even further, calling it the Lafite Rothschild of the Languedoc. Rave reviews in France have followed in Lui magazine, Le Figaro magazine, the Revue Vinicole magazine, and in this country, in a feature article in Connoisseur magazine. Yet, most American wine enthusiasts seem totally oblivious to this red wine.
The wine has had the care of a pampered child from its birth in the vineyards to its upbringing in the wine cellars. Two famous French professors of eonology, the late Henri Enjalbert and Bordeaux-trained Emile Peynaud, gave high marks to the soil in which proprietor V. Guibert de la Vaissie re wanted to grow vines.
Peynaud was put in charge of planting a 25-acre vineyard with the basic Bordeaux varieties of cabernet sauvignon (of which 70 percent of the wine is composed), merlot, malbec, cabernet franc and a little syrah, the grape grown in the Rho ne Valley. The vineyard is fertilized only organically, the vines are pruned to limit the yield, and the wine vinified in a modern cellar and aged in small, oak casks for 20 to 30 months before its release.
The results have been nothing short of astonishing. First, despite the blessing of two of France's most respected professors of oenology, the wine is only a simple "vin de pays," as this area of France is not entitled to an Appellation Contro le'e, the highest quality control of the French wine law. The wine, of which 6,000 cases are produced annually, has been imported into this country by Les Grands Celliers, a New York City importer.
Locally it is unfortunately available only in limited quantities at the Calvert/Woodley shop. The current vintages that are available are the 1983 and 1982 for $8.99 a bottle -- a remarkable value, given the quality of the wine and its undeniable aging potential.
What is Mas de Daumas Gassac like? I've tasted all of the vintages, 1978 to 1983. It is a remarkably consistent wine. The 1982 and 1978 are the two richest and most powerful, the 1980 the lightest and most mature, and the 1979 and 1983 somewhere between the intense, powerful and profound style of the 1978 and 1982, and a supple, accessible style of the 1980.
The wine is characterized by a black ruby color, a bouquet that seems to explode from the glass with scents of ripe blackberry and black currant fruit, as well as aromas of stony, mineral scents. In the mouth, the wine is quite rich and full bodied with certainly enough tannin for at least 8 to 10 years of positive evolution.
Vaissiere, the proprietor, claims it will last and improve for at least 15 to 20 years in vintages like 1978, 1981, 1982 and 1983. But even in young vintages, he claims the wine can be drunk if left to aerate, or as wine enthusiasts say, breathe, for 3 to 4 hours before serving. Mas de Daumas Gassac is certainly not a shy wine as its bold color and dramatic flavors attest.
If it does become the Lafite Rothschild of the Languedoc, the $8.99 a bottle price asked for it today may prove in the decade of the '90s to be one heck of a great wine investment.