Profile: Domaine Roger Sabon
Domaine Roger Sabon is a good example of a
family-run estate in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Roger Sabon founded the domaine as we
know it today in 1952, following in the footsteps of his father, Séraphin
Sabon, who created Clos Mont-Olivet twenty years before. In 1973, with
the help of his three sons, Denis, Gilbert and Jean-Jacques, Roger Sabon acquired
a 12-hectare property in Lirac. Today, the winery is managed Denis and Gilbert
Sabon, along with Denis’ children, Delphine and Julien. Didier Négron, the late Jean-Jacques Sabon's son-in-law, joined the estate as
enologist in 2001, and is now the cellar master.
The domaine owns seventeen hectares of vines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape,
composed of fifteen parcels located in the heart of the appellation, mostly on
soils rich in pebbles. Their other property, Chapelle de Maillac, is located on
the opposite bank of the Rhône River, and includes twelve hectares in Lirac.
Grapes are almost
fully destemmed because Didier Négron wishes to limit the risk of vegetal notes
potentially brought by stem inclusion. Négron explains that the philosophy of
the domaine is to work with long macerations, which last about a month. According
to Négron, the wines maintain good freshness thanks to careful blending and
the meticulously chosen harvest dates of each parcel. With the Syrah, for
example, the domaine works with lower ripeness levels to maintain freshness
as well as color in the wines. Similarly, with the Grenache (the base of every
wine produced at Roger Sabon, depending on the soils and the characteristics of
the parcels) Négron seeks a bit less ripeness on the vine to keep natural
freshness and retain acidity, which contributes to good tension in the wines.
methods employed at Domaine Roger Sabon are reflected in the style of the wines.
From beginning to end, the wines display deep, expressive notes of red and dark
berries that don’t ever seem to be held back. Nevertheless, this intensity is never
over-ripe or candied; to the contrary, the fruit is well balanced by a
beautiful sense of freshness.
Multimedia: In the Cellar with Didier Négron
The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Renaissance is the only white Châteauneuf-du-Pape produced
at the domaine. The Rennaissance is based on Roussanne, with Clairette,
Bourboulenc and Grenache Blanc rounding out the blend. The fruit is sourced
from soils made of sand as well as clay and limestone. Once harvested, the
grapes undergo a low-temperature fermentation in demi-muids. Aging takes place
in the same demi-muids, and lasts six months with weekly stirring of the lees.
The Lirac comes
from the twelve hectares the domaine possesses in Roquemaure, at the Chapelle
de Maillac. The parcels are located on hillsides, with soils composed of small
pebbles and clay. The Lirac is built on a core of Grenache, with Syrah,
Mourvèdre and Carignan completing the blend. The grapes are fully destemmed and
fermentation lasts from 20 to 25 days. Aging is done in casks and demi-muids.
Les Olivets is the most affordable Châteauneuf-du-Pape produced by Domaine
Roger Sabon. It is made mostly from Grenache, with some Syrah and Cinsault. The
soil is composed of clay and limestone, and is covered with pebbles. Fermentation lasts about 20 days, while aging
takes place in 40 HL casks for a period of 15 months.
Réserve is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault, all from
soils made of pebbles, clay, limestone and silica. The fermentation lasts about
21 days. The Réserve is aged in
oak for 16-18 months, seventy per cent in casks and thirty per cent in
Prestige coul be considered the estate’s top cuvée. A blend of Grenache,
Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Terret, Counoise, Vaccarèse et Muscardin, the
Prestige is sourced from soils made of pebbles, clay and limestone. The
fermentation is a bit longer here, between 25 to 30 days. Aging takes place in
casks and demi-muids and lasts 16 to 18 months.
Le Secret des Sabons is one of the rarer and more expensive wines of the
appellation. Although the blend is kept a secret, there is no doubt Le Secret is
mostly made from old-vine Grenache vines that surpass the hundred year mark. Le
Secret spends about 12 months in demi-muids. The domaine officially started
producing Le Secret in 1998, and it has been made in almost every vintage since
then. Because Le Secret des Sabons is sourced from very small parcels yielding
less than 20HL per hectare, fewer than 2,000 bottles are made annually.
The 2013 Châteauneuf du Pape Renaissance displays great tension and
underlining minerality, all the while showing sweet and candied notes. The
exotic bouquet of aromas includes rich notes of pineapple and mango that lead
into the lengthy finale.
The 2012 Lirac is
another superb effort from Sabon. Mostly made out of Grenache, with Syrah,
Mourvèdre and Carignan, this velvety, silky, and medium bodied effort opens
with intense aromatics. This gracious wine displays notes of red stone fruits
and concludes in a very well crafted finale. A solid Lirac.
Somewhat in the
shade of its counterparts, the 2012 Châteauneuf du Pape Les Olivets is
the least impressive wine in this line-up. Quite straightforward, the Olivets
is nevertheless tasty, with notes of red berries and cherry wrapped into an
The 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Réserve is a real step up from Les Olivets. Starting off with great purity on the palate, the Réserve possesses a beautiful backbone
of structure as well as expressive notes of licorice and cherry pit. The 2012 exhibits
pure scents of ripe berries, but without being overripe at any moment. This is
an intense Châteauneuf-du-Pape that speaks to elegance, freshness and purity.
A bit more
backward than its Réserve counterpart, the 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Prestige
needs time in the glass to unfold
its gorgeous layers of aromatics. Underlined by beautiful overall complexity,
this striking Châteauneuf displays
pure notes of cherry, blood, and blackberry. Its finesse pushes the aromatics
very far in the lengthy finale, and opens the way to fine notes of black
The 2013 Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Prestige seems to be even sweeter
and more perfumed than its 2012 counterpart, and will most probably be more
approachable in its youth. Displaying a lot of garrigue in its aromatics, this
strong effort has a gorgeous core of fruits and ends on a beautiful finale with
The 2012 Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Le Secret des Sabons, mostly made out of old vine Grenache, is a truly
different wine than its siblings. Much more concentrated than the Prestige
bottling, the Secret displays a rich, Grenache-like nose, with great notes of
licorice that continues in the mouth. Star anise, blackcurrant, and blackberry add
tremendous complexity to the mouth and stay along during the super lengthy and
introspective finale. This quintessential Châteauneuf-du-Pape has a lot in its
guts and displays precise tannins all along the way, but it’s a wine I wouldn’t
touch until 2018, at least.
Negron isn’t sure whether he will bottle a Châteauneuf-du-Pape Le Secret des
Sabons in 2013, we sampled it from the demi-muid in which the wine is
currently aging. Displaying an astonishing concentration and finesse, this
beautiful Châteauneuf offers a
lot of red fruit in a similar fashion as the 2013 Prestige, and shows even more
concentration and precision. This is a terrific showing considering how tough 2013
was for Grenache.
— César Rivière