RHONE 2016: AN IMPORTANT NEW/OLD FACE

At this point we’ll presume that you have heard us wax poetic about the 2016 vintage in the southern Rhone on multiple occasions, so we’ll cut right to the main story.  Even in a place with the long history of the Rhone, there are new stories and exciting new things to discover.  The land, of course, has always been here, and farmhouse from which the property takes its name, St. Antonin, has been in references back to the time of Napoleon and was built in the 17th Century.  What made the big change at this property, and likely the reason you re hearing about it today is the new ownership circa 2014.

A number of serious Rhone domaines have looked to this area, called Plan de Dieu, as a place that provided terroir that is not unlike Chateauneuf itself and offers the opportunity for expansion.   But here estates with contiguous holdings of clay, galet, and sand soils, don’t come up very often.  When this one did, the Sabon family was on it.  Now there are a few Sabons in the Rhone.  But this particular family of Sabons are the folks that own the iconic Domaine de la Janasse in Chateauneuf.

This new domaine of 15 hectares, plus a couple of hectares of Chateauneuf transferred from Janasse to the Clos St. Antonin estate, are under the control of daughter Isabelle along with her father Aime.  Certainly the succession of vineyard land (Napoleonic law and all of that) had a part in the creation of this project, but we are only focused on the juice itself.  On that score, Clos St. Antonin is off to a whale of a start.  These are only their second releases and, while the timing couldn’t have been better with respect to vintages, it is clear that Isabelle Sabon has quite the touch. 

As we tasted through the lineup, we mused that her wines showed a deft hand and a certain refinement yet still delivered a substantial mouthful of rich, savory fruit.  Brother beware, the lady has skills.  The Clos St. Antonin Cotes du Rhone 2016 is a polished bargain at its price point and, as we have said on a few occasions with specialty Cotes du Rhone in 2016, her Clos St. Antonin Cotes du Rhone Villages Plan de Dieu 2016 could hang with the ‘bigger fish’ and outscored a number of Chateauneufs.  The proof is in the glass.

Made from 80% Grenache, the balance Mourvedre and Syrah, all from 30-50 year old vines, it is raised in concrete tanks, foudres and neutral French oak demi-muids.  We’ll let Jeb Dunnuck do the play-by-play, “…the 2016 Côtes du Rhône should be sought out by savvy buyers. Ripe, rounded, and incredibly sexy, with lots of kirsch and blackberry fruits, garrigue, and mineral notes, it has impeccable balance as well as purity of fruit. It’s a knockout Côtes du Rhône to drink over the coming 3-4 years.

This up and coming superstar of an estate was created by Isabelle and Christophe Sabon (of Domaine de Janasse) in 2015. The estate is located in the Plan de Dieu, northeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, yet they have access to some prime terroirs in Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the La Crau and Font du Loup lieux-dits. These are legit, awesome wines, and savvy readers need to get on board!... 91 Points “

Of the Plan de Dieu, “Even better, the 2016 Côtes du Rhône Villages Plan de Dieu has to be one of the great wines from this appellation, which comes from an ocean of vines located on the valley floor between Vacqueyras and Cairanne. Made from 50% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, and 20% Syrah brought up in foudre and demi-muids, it offers awesome notes of cassis, blackberries, spice box, and licorice. Ripe, full-bodied, and powerful, yet also balanced and pure, do your best to latch onto a few bottles…94 Points.”

Yes the field is crowded right now.  But even in this current (though diminishing) sea of glorious southern Rhones, these are significant efforts.  They are lush, engaging, pure and hedonistic, yet at the same time are beautifully aligned and somehow more precise than most.  Like the man said, “savvy readers need to get on board.”