Rotem & Mounir Saouma Chateauneuf-du-Pape Magis Blanc 2020
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
Let’s start at the beginning: five acres in Pignan. A sale was being conducted through the French state that presented the opportunity to buy a somewhat neglected parcel adjoining some outstanding plots (notably Rayas’ Bois de Rayas and the Pignan lieu-dit). The Saoumas have long loved the area and its wines, have many friends and saw they could potentially acquire land in a way that would not be possible in Burgundy. The sheer vitality of these vines today is extraordinary.
They know and love Mounir Saouma because of the way he transmits both unknown and acknowledged great crus of Burgundy through his elevage into masterpieces, but it turns out he may be an even more talented vineyard manager. Mounir’s philosophy is in theory straightforward. He has worked to improve drainage in his vineyards, works with organic manures, and doesn’t mind the low yields he is getting in his plots. As is the case with most things in life, simplicity appears only after deliberation and experience. From this plot, Mounir has been able to acquire additional vineyards, and today farms a total of 21 acres across eight vineyards in all five villages of the appellation (Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Bedarrides, Sorgues, Courthezon, and Orange).
The kaleidoscope of the terroirs he works with is reflected in the cellar, as well, where a combination of barrels, foudres, cement, and eggs are used, all except the last of which can be considered “traditional” within the diversity of Chateauneuf’s viticultural history. The fruit is pressed firmly with small presses dating from the late 1970s, left in tank to macerate at relatively cool temperatures for 8 days, and then transferred to the various vessels. The wines are never punched down, never racked, and never sulfured until a light addition a month before bottling. They age for between 24-36 months, including the white, which as you might expect has an outsized focus here.
The wines are stunning: precise, intense, complex, expressive visions of Chateauneuf.
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.
Full-bodied and flavorful, white Rhône blends originate from France’s Rhône Valley. Today these blends are also becoming popular in other regions. Typically some combination of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier form the basis of a white Rhône blend with varying degrees of flexibility depending on the exact appellation. Somm Secret—In the Northern Rhône, blends of Marsanne and Roussanne are common but the south retains more variety. Marsanne, Roussanne as well as Bourboulenc, Clairette, Picpoul and Ugni Blanc are typical.