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Roger Sabon Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Olivets 2002
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 reminiscent of black cherry, baked raspberry, garrigue, olive tapenade, lavender and baking spice, Chateauneuf-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 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 Cinsault, 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 sweet spice, red Rhône blends originated from France’s southern Rhône Valley. Grenache, supported by Syrah and Mourvèdre typically form the base of the blend, while Carignan, Cinsault and Counoise often come in to play. With some creative interpretation, Rhône blends have also become popular in Priorat, Washington, Australia and California.
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 is the lightest in color but contributes plenty of ripe red fruit and a plush texture. Syrah supplies dark fruit flavors, along with savory, spicy and earthy notes. Mourvèdre is responsible for a floral perfume and earthy flavor as well as structure and a healthy dose of color. New World examples tend to be fruit-forward in style, while those from the Old World will often have more earth, structure and herbal components on top of ripe red and blue fruit.
Rhône red blends typically make for very food-friendly wines. These can work with a wide variety of meat-based dishes, playing equally well with beef, pork, lamb or game. Braised beef cheeks, grilled steak or sausages, roasted pork and squab are all fine pairings.
Some regions like to put their own local spin on the red Rhône 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 make an appearance.