- Rating: 94 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $0
- Accepts Reservations: No
- Reservation Required: false
If you were in Châteauneuf for only a day, Roger SABON needs to be on that list of three wineries to visit. The wines served aren’t as pricey as Clos Des Papes and others, but you will have a fantastic experience with the tour, the different varietals, and the styles of wine they have on their menu. You should absolutely make a reservation here to guarantee an English-speaker for your guide. And if you are lucky like me, you’ll have the winemaker himself showing you around the facility, explaining what he aimed for when he made each of the wines, and answering any/all questions you may have. As a wine student, this was definitely my most educational tasting in Châteauneuf.
I remember having a bottle of the 2012 Secret de Sabon about 2 years ago during a tasting and really liking it. Little did I know how much that bottle cost and that I would ever need to recall its name. It is a surreal experience each time I visit a winery that produces wines I’ve enjoyed at home, at a wine bar, or in a restaurant. The website recommended that I make a reservation and since practically no other winery requested/required one, I made sure to get this done. When I arrived at the winery, the hostesses seemed confused, like I was lost. I explained that I had made a reservation and that I was here for a tour and tasting. I guess they expected it to be a group of people, not just me.
They asked me to wait as one of them fetched a man out of the winemaking pad in the building next door. He was covered in grape must, smelled like (bad) wine, and was a bit out of breath. I thought he was just one of their crushpad workers that spoke English. After some introductions and light conversation, it dawned on me that this guy really knew what he was talking about and that he might be someone important. It turns out, I was getting a private tour and tasting from the Roger SABON’s winemaker. How cool is that? And Roger SABON is not a small production shop - they send wine all over the world and this was the man responsible. I hate to admit that my attitude changed (I don’t want to be that wine snob), but his words seemed to carry more weight.
As we walked through the winery and discussed the appellation as a whole, the different terroirs, their varietals, picking schedules (I had just interrupted a crush session during their harvest), and winemaking choices. I was delighted to discover that Roger SABON in fact owns 80 hectares of vines on 14 different plots. That is massive for a producer in this town. Despite their production levels, they still take the same care that they always have with their wines. They continue to macerate the red wines for about a month, age them in three different sized barrels (foudre, barrel, and giant neutral oak tanks) for various periods, and then blend them back together. They normally bottle the wines a year after blending to allow them adequate time to integrate.
As intriguing as the wine production discussion was, I was more interested in Didier’s story (the winemaker who was showing me around). He played it coy with me and instead talked about the winery’s history. Domaine Roger SABON was founded in 1952 by the father and later had the support of his three sons. Like many other family wineries, once all of the sons came of age, the youngest two left home and started other wineries in the region while the eldest eventually took over the reigns at Roger SABON. They all still enjoy close relationships and even help each other out when needed.
Before I knew it, wine had appeared in my hand and I was drinking it at Didier’s behest:
- 2017 Renaissance (27€)
- White Chateauneuf blend of Clairette, Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, and Roussane. White flowers, lemon, cream, and yogurt on the nose. The wine was very bright for having been aged on the lees. Medium(+) acid, medium body with flavors in sync with the aromas, with an additional bit of melon. It finishes a little hot because of the alcohol, but this was just released, so I would expect a couple years in bottle may help round that out. Still, a very nice wine all the way through the palate. For the price point, I’d definitely get some bottles had I the suitcase room.
- 2017 Lirac (9.80€)
- Red Chateauneuf blend of Grenache, old vine Carignan, Syrah, and Mouvedre. Bright red cherries-n-crème and violets on the nose. Structurally, the wine had medium(+) acid, high grippy tannins, and a medium(-) body. The cherries-n-crème flavor dominate the palate with the tannins gripping a bit on the finish. The flavors are there, but the imbalance of the lighter body and grippy tannins make this seem like a 10€ wine. Assuming the fruit holds up well and the tannins/body integrate, I wouldn’t be surprised if this drank like a 20€-30€ bottle in a few years. Everything just needs to round out a little and the tertiary character needs to work with the fruit.
- 2016 Les Olivets (17.90€)
- 80/10/10 proportional blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mouvedre (GSM) respectively. There’s a complicated blend of aromas on the nose. It’s integrated but young enough that you can still feel out the 4-5 distinct aromas (red currant, cherry, black cherry, and light spice). High acid, high grippy tannins and medium body. The intensity and flavors of the fruit are harder to suss out on the palate with the tannins as high and rough as they are, but they are mostly in the primary fruit category, though not as ripe as the nose. This wine needs at least 3 years to settle down before you can really evaluate it without a food pairing to counter the tannins.
- 2015 Reserve (23.50€)
- GSM blend (Grenache dominant) in a more rustic style than the previous wines. You can smell the tertiary component on the nose with more dried red fruit. Medium(+) acid, high grippy tannins, and a medium body. The intensity of the fruit is a bit more apparent on the palate, but the tannins interfere with the taste. Didier (the winemaker) said to decant this wine for 1 hour to open the the aromatics and soften the tannins to make this more approachable. I would do it for the Les Olivets too.
- 2015 Prestige (35.50€)
- Deeper and riper red fruit, even more so than the Reserve. There’s also an underlying hint of baking spice that blends well with the high alcohol. Medium(+) acid, high grippy tannin, and medium body. Though, the flavor intensity is pronounced enough that you can clearly taste the red fruit through the tannins. Red cranberry/cherries are the dominant flavors, though they are very light and bright on the palate. Again though, the wine will be at its best in a few years or after an hour or two of decanting. No alcoholic bite to the wine - it is well integrated.
- 2014 Secret des Sabon (90€)
- Less powerful than 2015/2016 and more of a burgundy style. Nearly 100% Grenache from two fabulous old vine plots to showcase the grape’s complexity, varietal character, and the uniqueness of their terroir. The bottle I tasted from had been opened for 3 days, so there was a little oxidation because it is Grenache. The depth and complexity on the nose are pretty incredible considering it’s a single varietal. Fresh and dried red fruit with a little thyme. The tannins are fine enough to drink this right now and are balanced with the acidity. The finish goes on for 20 seconds and ends cleanly. Thanks to the oxidation, I could feel the start of the tertiary character, but it’s a supporting piece to a puzzle that’s predominantly complex fruit. This will age beautifully thanks to the surprising amount of ripe, smooth tannin in this wine.
If you haven’t had their wines before, I highly recommend tracking it down at your local wine shop. Their distributor in the USA is European Cellars, which is based out of Charlotte, NC. I have already picked up a bottle of Prestige and a couple of Secret des Sabon from the 2015/2016 vintages, though I know that I’ll need to wait a while in order to enjoy them at their fullest. Again, if you find yourself in Chateauneuf, you need to stop by and have a great conversation. Cheers!!
Rating: 94 out of 100