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Roger Sabon Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Secret des Sabon 2003
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
Domaine Roger Sabon was founded in 1952 and is currently run by Roger’s sons Denis and Gilbert. A third son, Jean-Jacques is deceased but his son-in-law Didier Negron is the current winemaker. Denis and his son Julien oversee the farming while Gilbert and his niece, Delphine run the office. It is quite the family affair!
The size of the domaine has grown slowly over the years with 18 hectares in Chateauneuf du Pape, 8 hectares in Lirac and 8 hectares in Côtes-du-Rhône. Most of their holdings in Châteauneuf-du-Pape are located in the northeastern part of the appellation, where the soils are sandier with a high concentration of limestone. They also own a few parcels in Le Crau famous for its red clay under a deep layer of galets deposited from the alps eons ago. These two soil types combine to make wines that are equally rich and nuanced.
Since 2001 Didier Negron has made the wines at Domaine Roger Sabon, but recently he’s begun to move away from demi-muids and barriques in favor of aging his family’s wines in concrete and large French oak foudres. While the terroir of Roger Sabon, with its high concentration of sand and limestone, has always been inclined to a more ethereal and delicate style of Châteauneuf, Didier’s changes in the cellar have amplified these qualities – the wines have never been more engaging and lovely.
While Grenache is the mainstay at the Domaine, they also grow Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Terret Noire, Counoise, Vaccarèse Muscardin, Roussanne, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Grenache Blanc. They own some fairly old Syrah, about 60 years old, located on limestone soils which is an important component in the Prestige bottling. Their oldest vines, topping 100 years old, are located in two plots near Courthézon, and are the source for the Secret des Sabon. While details are sketchy and the Sabons are shy about divulging any information about this cuvée, it is safe to assume that these vines are primarily Grenache. In the cellar there is a single demi-muid in the shadows which is presumably the Secret des Sabon, but once again polite inquires are met with a Gallic shrug."
Famous for its full-bodied, seductive and spicy reds with flavor and aroma characteristics of silky black cherry, baked raspberry, garrigue, olive tapenade, lavender and baking spice, Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the leading sub-appellation of the southern Rhone River Valley. Large pebbles resembling river rocks, called galets in French, dominate most of the terrain. The stones hold heat and reflect it back up to the low-lying gobelet-trained vines. Though the galets are typical, they are not prominent in every vineyard. Chateau Rayas is the most obvious deviation with very sandy soil.
According to law, eighteen grape varieties are allowed in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and most wines are blends of some mix of these. For reds, Grenache is the star player with Mourvedre and Syrah coming typically second. Others used include Cinsaut, Counoise and occasionally Muscardin, Vaccarèse, Picquepoul Noir and Terret Noir.
Only about 6-7% of wine from Chateauneuf-du-Pape is white. Blends and single-varietal bottlings are typically based on the soft and floral Grenache Blanc but Clairette, Bourboulenc and Roussanne are grown with some significance.
The wine of Chateauneuf-du-Pape takes its name from the relocation of the papal court to Avignon. The lore says that after moving in 1309, Pope Clément V (after whom Chateau Pape-Clément in Pessac-Léognan is named) ordered that vines were planted. But it was actually his successor, John XXII, who established the vineyards. The name however, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, translated as "the pope's new castle," didn’t really stick until the 19th century.
With bold fruit flavors and accents of spice, Rhône red blends originated in France’s Southern Rhône valley and have become popular in Priorat, Washington, South Australia, and California’s Central Coast. In the Rhône itself, 19 grape varieties are permitted for use, but many of these blends, are based on Grenache and supported by Syrah and Mourvèdre, earning the nickname “GSM blends.” Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape are perhaps the best-known outposts for these wines. Other varieties that may be found in Rhône blends include Carignan, Cinsault, and Counoise.
In the Glass
The taste profile of a Rhône blend will vary according to its individual components, as each variety brings something different to the glass. Grenache, which often forms the base of these blends, is the lightest in color but contributes plenty of ripe red fruit, a plush texture, and often high levels of alcohol. Syrah supplies darker fruit flavors, along with savory, spicy, and meaty notes. Mourvèdre is responsible for a floral perfume as well as body, tannin, and a healthy dose of color. New World examples will lie further along the fruit-forward end of the spectrum, while those from the Old World taste and smell much earthier, often with a “barnyard” character that is attractive to many fans of these wines.
Rhône red blends typically make for very food-friendly wines. Depending on the weight and alcohol level, these can work with a wide variety of meat-based dishes—they play equally well with beef, pork, duck, lamb, or game. With their high acidity, these wines are best-matched with salty or fatty foods, and can handle the acidity of tomato sauce in pizza or pasta. Braised beef cheeks, grilled lamb sausages, or roasted squab are all fine pairings.
Some regions like to put their own local spin on the Rhône red blend—for example, in Australia’s Barossa Valley, Shiraz is commonly blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to add structure, tannin, and a long finish. Grenache-based blends from Priorat often include Carignan (known locally as Cariñena) and Syrah, but also international varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In California, anything goes, and it is not uncommon to see Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, or even Tempranillo make an appearance.