In May 2010, Prescott & Conran launched Château Boundary, “a free wine club, for beginners, enthusiasts, connoisseurs and those who simply enjoy vinous treats“. Being an interested local I joined and asked for a ‘look around’. The generous response was an invitation to a tasting of the wines of Mas de Daumas matched with a menu of classics from the Languedoc at the Boundary Restaurant (website here). The Boundary complex itself was opened on New Years Eve 2008 and now includes a food store, bars, eateries, roof garden and rooms. It is situated in an attractive large Victorian warehouse and has been a major addition to this thriving bit of East London.
Mas de Daumas resonated with me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Mondavi versus Aime’ Guibert stand-off portrayed in the film Mondovino (a perfect David v Goliath and Old World v New World clash of ideologies). Secondly because I used to visit this area of France 2 or 3 times a year and some of my favourite wines are produced there. It is an area full of passionate, and sometimes radicalised, winemakers. I love it.
One of Charlemagne’s advisers founded the first vineyard in the Gassac valley over a thousand years ago. In more recent times the wider area became associated with poor viticultural practices and inauspicious wines. However, in 1970 whilst searching for a family home, Véronique and Aimé Guibert found an old farmhouse, owned by the Daumas family, in the heart of the beautiful Gassac valley. Not winemakers themselves they were fortunately friends with Professor Henri Enjalbert, a geologist and author specialising in the relationship between land and grapes. He visited and, according to the Domaine website (here) “raved about the ice age scree covered land likening it to the best soil in Burgundy’s Côtes d’Or“. He is reported to have exclaimed ‘It’s quite possible to make a Grand Cru here but it would probably take 200 years for it to be recognized and accepted as such!’. Enjalbert suggested that underground cold water springs and the influence of the surrounding mountain created a micro-climate reminiscent of the Medoc. The first vintage arrived in 1978 and by 1982 the wine had plaudits, such as Gault et Millau which described Mas de Daumas Gassac as ‘a Languedoc Château Lafite’. Emile Peynaud also showed an interest and when journalists asked him why he bothered with an unknown Languedoc domaine when he was used to dealing with the world’s great vineyards, he replied : ‘I’ve advised the greatest producers in France, but never before been lucky enough to be present at the birth of a grand cru’. So I expected quite a lot from the tasting (despite some years ago not being particularly impressed by a bottle of red from the Domaine).
I was lucky in sitting next to Samuel Guilbert, oldest son of Aimé and a polished Ambassador for the Domaine. I thought the whites showed better than the reds (which were relatively young). I particularly liked the 2008 Mas de Daumas Blanc which sang with a wonderfully intense Bisque. The 20% Viognier gives it perfume and aromatic notes without it becoming cloying. Lutetian limestone is cited as adding minerality and the other main varieties used in the Cuvee are Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Petit Manseng (also at around 20%) with each contributing its own characteristics. The last 20% is made up of more obscure varieties (often not the usual Languedoc suspects due to the micro-climate) in very small amounts. This style of wine demonstrates the winemakers’ vision and skill at combining complex elements to create something integrated and coherent.
I was impressed with the cooking at Boundary and the lamb and cheese courses would have made any red drinkable. I also had a Proustian moment with the oven warm Madeleine. It was a thing of beauty with a perfect foil in the Mas de Daumas Vin de Laurence pictured left. I could appreciate how the psychology of memory was laid bare by this humble cake.
Enthusiastic Head Sommelier Gabriel Danis was on hand with a copy of the ambitious wine list. It is comprehensive in its coverage and has good ‘Sommelier suggestions’. I also noted that 125ml measures can be requested as an alternative to 175/250ml. There is something for everyone on the list, no mean feat, and a good balance between established makers and bottles that shout out ‘try me!’.
I had a lovely night and would encourage you to take the plunge by joining the ‘club table’, which during my visit included the amiable, and clearly very astute, Peter Prescott. I also send my regards to Alex and Paul and hope we get to meet again some time as it is always good to come across kindred spirits. Chateau Boundary’s approach to wine supports this conviviality and should be applauded.