Let the Wine Decide: Sablet – a citadel of ‘ruelles’ and home to our silkiest wine

August 11, 2012 at 10:58 am

Just west of Mount Ventoux and 3km from Séguret is the 9th Century village of Sablet; another hilltop village notable for its medieval stone fortification, ruelles (narrow covered alleys) and citadel of cobbled streets which spiral around the church of St Nazaire – which provided the inspiration for the name of ‘La Citadelle’ for our Sablet.

Sablet, Rhône, 12 Century Church of Saint Nazaire

Church of St Nazaire, Sablet, Southern Rhône

SABLET (GRENACHE NOIR and SYRAH): Like Séguret, Sablet is classed as a named Côtes du Rhône Villages, a classification granted to it in 1974. Its lush vineyards rise gently up the lower slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail producing wines of great silkiness, for which Sablet is justly beginning to become more renowned.

We have sourced Sablet for a number of years from vineyards on the first slopes just to the south of the village, which are characterised by the sandy limestone soils from which Sablet takes its name (‘sable’ is French for ‘sand’). Planted with the classic Rhône varieties of Grenache Noir and Syrah, averaging 30 years of age, we make our ‘La Citadelle’ from an unusually high percentage of Syrah (around 30%) to complement the Grenache Noir.

In 2008 we first released a Boutinot Rhône Sablet Côtes du Rhône Villages as by that time we had built up enviable relationships with a network of local growers and had an exceptionally silky cuvée in the making. Maintaining these relationships and working closely with each vigneron to source grapes and wine from their trove of prized vineyards is an important element in our winemaker, Eric Monnin’s work.

SABLET and BOUTINOT ‘LA CITADELLE’: To date we have released two Sablet vintages under the name ‘La Citadelle’  – 2008 and 2009 – which we matured in a combination new demi-muids (600l barrels) and of older barrels of standard sized 228 litres – both of course coopered with French oak.

Currently vintage 2010 and 2011 are maturing in barrel and based on regular tastings, we, or as we say, the wine will decide next spring for 2010 (and the following spring for 2011) in what form it will be released.

Tasting Cotes du Rhone from barrel

Eric Monnin tasting from barrel

So first then, the wine will prompt the question – should we release a Sablet in it’s own right  at all? Regular tasting to understand the evolution of the wine is vital to our final decision. Sometimes a wine’s maturation surprises us; in 2008 we achieved our most harmonious and complete Sablet to date and therefore worthy as a release in its own right. 

Although we could release both the 2010 and 2011 as follow-on vintages, only if each meets the high standards set first by 2008 (Guide Hachette star on release) and since by the multi-awarded 2009 vintage, will we release follow-on vintages. Sablet is a potentially a cru in the making and only if we and like-minded producers take great care with each release, will Sablet achieve this higher appellation.  

Wine matured in French oak barrels, Cairanne, Rhone

Wine maturing in French oak barrels

Second, which barrels do we believe qualify in our view to be blended and released as Sablet?

We mature the wine in what you might call a nursery of barrels, from brand new to ‘older’ barrels of first-fill, second-fill (first-fill has already matured one vintage, second-fill two vintages and so on); and in demi-muids and in barrels standard size, all of French oak. And as a painter would prepare a palette of colours, so we believe this nursery gives us a broad spectrum of flavours to taste and assess for compatibility in the final assemblage worthy of release as ‘La Citadelle’.

Taking a sample of wine from barrel to taste, Boutinot Rhone

Sampling wine from barrel to taste

Third, at what point in time will the wine be ready for release?
The maturation times between vintages can change – in 2008, some components were matured for only 13 months as by then they were ready; others needed up to 18 months maturation.

2009 was a completely different vintage and after a cuvaison of 30 days, the wine was far more luscious, so demanding a longer maturation of around 22 months for all the components. This was in part because of the vintage we decided to use a higher proportion of new demi-muids (50%) as Eric likes the ‘marriage’ between the larger volume of wine to oak in a 600-litre barrel, as he explained in his recent Rhône Masterclass. Older 228 litre barriques were also used which contributed a thrilling sensation of suppleness and multi-layered subtleties – a balancing act delicately orchestrated to achieve complexity and finesse in the final wine.

Demi-muids, large barrels, Boutinot Rhone

Eric Monnin tasting from 600l Demi Muids

Eric believes that with the La Citadelle 2009 “We have managed to achieve a wine which is quite oaky, but with all the flavour of the fruit, a very difficult balance to achieve; and personally what I definitely love about this wine is the silkiness of the tannins.”

WHAT TO SEE IN SABLET: Settled since Roman times Sablet is an authentic Provençal village built atop a hillside. Overseen by 12th Century Church of  St Nazaire Sablet’s narrow streets wind through ‘ruelles’ (vaulted passages).

From the ramparts which circle the village it is possible to view Sablets’ vineyards at the foot of the ‘Les Dentelles de Montmirail’, a striking ‘lacy’ landmark (‘dentelle’ means lace) of jagged peaks of jurassic limestone which stand tall in the pale blue skies of this part of the southern Rhône valley.

During July Sablet’s cobbled streets are given over to a lively annual book festival but Eric our winemaker believes a visit to Sablet (and neighbouring Séguret) is a must for anyone wanting to fully understand the wines of the Southern Rhône.

Ruelles or covered walkways, Sablet, Southern Rhone

Covered walkways or ‘ruelles’ for which Sablet is famous

Sablet, Southern Rhone, stone ramparts surround village

Stone ramparts circle Sablet

Narrow streets of Sablet, Southern Rhone

Stone steps up to the hilltop Church of St Nazaire, Sablet