A curiosity is the 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape XXL, a blend of 95% Grenache and 5% Mourvedre that fermented for nearly three years.
Bottled earlier this year, it reminds me of some of the Cuvee Speciales that Henri Bonneau made, particularly the 1990 and 1998. One would think it might taste like an Amarone, but in fact, it doesn’t. It is a very thick, unctuously-textured, over-the-top wine with unbelievable concentration that is technically dry, even though the alcohol level is extraordinarily high. Only 1,400 bottles were produced.
Several California Rhone Ranger winemakers told me they thought this was the greatest Chateauneuf du Pape they ever tasted, which didn’t really surprise me because it is a singularly great wine, although I am sure some people will look at the alcohol level and simply dismiss it as being out of balance. It has phenomenal balance and is a rich, massive wine that in 20 or so years, will be considered to be a legend of Chateauneuf du Pape.Christophe Sabon, his sister Isabelle, and their father operate one of the great Chateauneuf du Pape winemaking estates.
They continue to invest in new vineyards as well as state-of-the-art winemaking equipment. Moreover, they never seem to be satisfied with the status quo, and are constantly challenging their past performances. Their 2007s were unbelievably good wines, the 2008s were among the finest wines of the appellation, and the 2009 vintage is another resounding success for them. The style is progressive, combining the best of traditional winemaking with the finest of a more modern approach. The wines all reflect their Provencal origins, only tiny quantities of new oak are used, and then only with the two grape varietals that can benefit from it (such as Syrah and Mourvedre). This is also a fabulous source for top wine values as the following tasting notes demonstrate. Christophe Sabon told me that the white varietals he works with tend to come from sandy and gravelly soils, so there is more finesse.
Both Chateauneuf du Pape blanc cuvees are well-worth a search of the marketplace. Interestingly, Sabon achieves excellent acidity in his white Chateauneufs despite the fact that they go through 100% malolactic fermentation, an unusual practice for white Chateauneuf du Papes. His objective is to bottle them unfiltered, which he is able to do. The wines are also extremely low in SO2. As I wrote last year, Christophe Sabon made two of the finest Chateauneuf du Papes of 2008. The estate’s third cuvee, the Chaupin, was declassified into the traditional wine, which no doubt benefitted from it. Sabon told me there was more Mourvedre used in the blend in order to provide more structure and support to the Grenache in 2008. In 2009, all three cuvees were produced.
I always think the harvest at Janasse must be one of the most difficult to manage as they have 200 acres of vines with over 200 separate parcels spread throughout the southern Rhone. Christophe told me it takes nearly two full days to just drive around and sample all the different vineyards to see where they are in terms of maturity.