Roger Sabon Chateauneuf-du-Pape Le Secret des Sabon 2017
Le Secret des Sabon began as an experimental cuvée and which has evolved to be one of the top wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. With only about a single demi-muid produced each year, from presumably old vines with their correspondingly low yields, there isn’t much to go around. It is quite surprising to taste Secret after the Cuvée Prestige, as one normally expects the “top” win of the estate to be the biggest, but this is a red herring. While there is an unmistakably glyceryl weight to Le Secret, it is more high-toned than you would initially expect. Red fruit predominates with stony and herbal accents that hint at a long life ahead. If we had to guess, we’d say that it is primarily Grenache and that it bears the hallmarks of a sandy terroir, but given the reticence of Didier and the generally more ethereal house style here, this is pure speculation.
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On another level, the 2017 Châteauneuf Du Pape Le Secret Des Sabon is stacked and packed and ranks with the top 2-3 wines in this great vintage. A huge nose of blackcurrants, melted licorice, graphite, garrigue and pepper gives way to an uber-full-bodied, concentrated, massively endowed wine that has an insane level of opulence and decadent, sweet tannins, and a huge finish. This is a tour de force in wine that readers need to taste to believe. Given its wealth of fruit and texture, it’s already approachable, yet a solid 4-5 years of bottle age are warranted, and it's going to keep for 25 years or more. Bravo! As always, this cuvée is a field blend that’s 95% Grenache, with the balance a mix of varieties, mostly from sandy soils, brought up in oak tronconique tanks.
Almost all Grenache from two old-vine parcels, the 2017 Chateauneuf du Pape le Secret de Sabon has morphed during its élevage in oak tank to reveal a darker side. While last year it was all red fruit and roses, this year it shows more plum, licorice, cola and cocoa. It remains wonderfully full-bodied yet light in feel, framed by firm tannins but also creamy and rich on the mid-palate, offering an array of conflicting sensations that emerge harmonious on the long finish. Tasted twice (once blind), with consistent notes. Rating: 96+
Ripe, with a good range to the mix of red and black currant, cherry and dark plum fruit compote flavors, all supported by singed alder, leather and licorice root notes. Shows a bit more grip than most in this generally forward-styled vintage. Best from 2020 through 2035.
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 Chateauneuf-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 Chateauneuf, 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 reminiscent of black cherry, baked raspberry, garrigue, olive tapenade, lavender and baking spice, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the leading sub-appellation of the southern Rhône 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 Châteauneuf-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 Cinsault, Counoise and occasionally Muscardin, Vaccarèse, Picquepoul Noir and Terret Noir.
Only about 6-7% of wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape is white wine. 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 sweet spice, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre form the base of the classic Rhône Red Blend, while Carignan, Cinsault and Counoise often come in to play. Though they originated from France’s southern Rhône Valley, with some creative interpretation, Rhône blends have also become popular in other countries. Somm Secret—Putting their own local spin on the Rhône Red Blend, those from Priorat often include Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In California, it is not uncommon to see Petite Sirah make an appearance.