ABOUT THIS WINE
Le Secret des Sabon began as an experimental cuvée 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 startling 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 unmistakable 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. Still, given the reticence of Didier and the generally more ethereal house style here, this is probably a good guess. Didier does admit that their oldest vines of Grenache are co-planted with other varieties in small quantities and that he prefers to co-ferment them. If we keep visiting each year, I’m sure we’ll get closer to the truth.
Presumably from old vines which are sustainably farmed in sand, red clay, limestone, or galets? Who knows? Fermentation could be done like the other cuvées, but maybe not. In the cellar there is a demi-muid in the shadows alone and apart from the rest of the demi-muids and foudres, maybe this is the Secret des Sabon.
ABOUT THIS PRODUCER
The Sabon family is an ancient and well-regarded name in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, first mentioned in documents dating to 1540. Perhaps not as venerable as the Ameniers of Domaine de Marcoux and Domaine Giraud, but still eminently respectable. Seraphin Sabon, a more recent patriarch of the family, first bottled wine in the appellation under the family’s name in 1921. He also fathered three very enterprising sons, all of whom established their own Domaines: Joseph Sabon at Clos du Mont Olivet, Noel Sabon at Chante Cigale, and Roger Sabon. The Sabons are like the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young of the village.
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 a 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 Secret des Sabon source. 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. There is a single demi-muid in the shadows in the cellar, which is presumably the Secret des Sabon, but once again, polite inquiries are met with a Gallic shrug.