2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine de la Janasse, Rhône
Jeb Dunnuck - 31/10/2013
Janasse owns over 40 acres in Chateauneuf du Pape as well as significant holdings in the Cotes du Rhone appellations. The consistency at this estate since the mid-1990s has been remarkable. Year in and year out, the wines, both reds and whites, are among the finest one will find ... anywhere! 2011 is consistently a top vintage at Janasse, even though it is by no means a great vintage in the southern Rhone, and their prodigious 2010s compete with their remarkable array of 2007s and 2009s. First, the 2011s, a challenging year that depended on vignerons making strict selections, not only in the vineyard, but also on the triage tables. Sabon has certainly done that. Janasse’s white Chateauneuf du Papes are fascinating as Sabon is one of the last producers to still do a 100% malolactic fermentation and no filtration. 2010 rivals 2007 as the two greatest vintages I have ever tasted at Domaine de la Janasse (and I’ve been tasting their wines for over two decades).
Robert Parker, Wine Advocate #204, Dec 2012
About this WINE
Domaine de la Janasse
Brother-and-sister team Christophe and Isabelle Sabon continue to work wonders at Janasse – a domaine founded by their father, Aimé Sabon, in 1973. They now farm around 90 hectares, 18 of which are in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. These are dotted across numerous plots in the northeast of the appellation, in the commune of Courthézon, where the soils are more sandy and therefore much cooler. They also have a few parcels on the famous, clay soil plateau of La Crau. The grapes are largely de-stemmed; concrete tanks are used for the Grenache and old oak for the Syrah and Mourvèdre. In other words, everything is fairly traditional. While they have been farming largely in accordance with organic principles for years, they are now undergoing full conversion to organic and expect to gain certification in 2024.
The domaine sadly suffered terribly from frost in 2021, reducing their output by 45% (and up to 80% for their Vin de Pays wines) – it is the siblings’ smallest vintage yet. They are however pleased with the quality, and they highlight its concentration and freshness.
The most celebrated village of the Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the birthplace of the now indispensable French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system – imperfect though it may be. Compared to the Northern Rhône, the vineyards here are relatively flat and often feature the iconic galet pebbles – the precise benefits of which are a source of much debate. Minimum alcohol levels required by the AOC are the highest in France, but at 12.5% it is well below the natural generosity of Grenache, which only achieves its full aromatic potential when it is fully ripe and laden with the resultant high sugars. Syrah and Mourvèdre contribute the other defining elements in the blend, adding pepper, savoury spice and structure to the decadent Grenache. There are a further 10 permitted red grape varieties which can be used to adjust the “seasoning”. Of the five white varieties permitted, it is Grenache Noir’s sibling – predictably perhaps – Grenache Blanc, which dominates, though Roussanne shows a great deal of promise when handled well, notably at Château de Beaucastel.
Southern Rhône Blend
The vast majority of wines from the Southern Rhône are blends. There are 5 main black varieties, although others are used and the most famous wine of the region, Châteauneuf du Pape, can be made from as many as 13 different varieties. Grenache is the most important grape in the southern Rhône - it contributes alcohol, warmth and gentle juicy fruit and is an ideal base wine in the blend. Plantings of Syrah in the southern Rhône have risen dramatically in the last decade and it is an increasingly important component in blends. It rarely attains the heights that it does in the North but adds colour, backbone, tannins and soft ripe fruit to the blend.
The much-maligned Carignan has been on the retreat recently but is still included in many blends - the best old vines can add colour, body and spicy fruits. Cinsault is also backtracking but, if yields are restricted, can produce moderately well-coloured wines adding pleasant-light fruit to red and rosé blends. Finally, Mourvèdre, a grape from Bandol on the Mediterranean coast, has recently become an increasingly significant component of Southern Rhône blends - it often struggles to ripen fully but can add acidity, ripe spicy berry fruits and hints of tobacco to blends.
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The Vieilles Vignes in question here are located in lieu-dits Le Crau, Les Soumades and, appropriately enough, La Janasse, the second of which has distinctive red clay soil and the last of which is strewn with large alluvial pebbles (galets roulés). This was without doubt one of the wines of our November trip, powerfully elegant, elegantly powerful, delightfully enigmatic and wonderfully straightforward. I was very proud to be able to show such a wine to the Director to the Chairman’s office, Lance Jefferson, who accompanied us.
Simon Field MW, BBR Buyer
Sabon is a familiar name in the Southern Rhône, a little like Marguet in Champagne or Lurton in Bordeaux. Beyond the complicated Napoleonic dynastic maze, there are some excellent vignerons, few more so than siblings Christophe and Isabelle, who farm 20 hectares centred in the Courthzon commune. Fairly traditional winemaking and a pleasingly unassuming manner have not prevented their particular branch of the family from some of the greatest plaudits of all.
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