Few of the myriad wine appellations of France’s Southwest are truly household names. Cahors perhaps, Madiran maybe, but the often wonderful wines of Jurançon, Irouléguy or Marcillac remain relatively undiscovered treasures. Another important appellation whose name may not trip of the tongue is Saint Mont. Situated on the first slopes of the Pyrenees foothills, it abuts the famous vineyards of Madiran, enjoying similar soils and climate with its red wines also based on the Tannat grape.
Part of the larger Gascony area, where much of the grape harvest was traditionally for the production of Armagnac, Saint Mont enjoys an Atlantic influence, particularly on its western vineyards which lie 60 miles from the coast. Soils here are sandier, whilst further east the climate is more continental and soils are clay and limestone. Saint Mont is dominated by its cooperative cellar, the giant Producteurs de Plaimont, which accounts for over 95% of the entire appellation’s production. Thankfully, quality is high and the cooperative has access to some wonderful old vine material – as well as being a vigorous defender and promoter the region’s indigenous grape varieties.
One of the properties belonging to the Co-op is the Château de Sabazan, located in the village of Sabazan, where vineyards are planted on sandy soils which the Producteurs de Plaimont believe bring an extra elegance to this Tannat-based wine, which sometime contains small proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
I recently had the opportunity to taste three vintages of Sabazan, 1988, 1998 and 2008, which was a fascinating opportunity to see how this wine ages decade upon decade, and how a moderately-priced Bordeaux-style wine such as this fares after almost 30 years of cellaring. As the 2011 vintage was also supplied to me as a sample – the latest release of this wine – I have included it in the tasting too.
Spirited Wines currently stocks the 2010 in the UK, priced at £16.00 and Portland Wines has the 2008 reviewed here, at £16.95. That’s not cheap for a bottle of wine, but considering the price of even the most modest Bordeaux with the capacity to age gracefully for three decades, then there is definite interest here.
See stockists of all vintages available of Château de Sabazan on wine-searcher.com.
Château de Sabazan, Saint Mont 1988, France
Still a healthy ruby at the core of this, though the rim now browning. On the nose, a typically leafy and autumnal ‘old wine aroma’ with currant and dried Chinese plum as well as cedar, all nicely mellow and attractive. In the mouth the fruit has certainly faded into the background, but this is far from dead: there is a clarity still to the acidity and a smoothness, a refinement to the tannins, with enough juiciness to the fruit still. Plenty of spice too, a gentle earthiness and leathery background, but you know the balance of this for a 27-year-old wine of modest cost is excellent. 89/100.
Château de Sabazan, Saint Mont 1998, France
With 17 years under its belt, this Sabazan appears to be still in the first flush of youth. Full and rich in colour, the nose is a powerful, deep-set melange of leather, game and spices, with touches of clove and cinnamon, and a density of plummy dark fruit. In the mouth the tannins are still quite grippy, with a sandy texture that coats the mouth, but that chewy, concentrated and savoury fruit is packed in too, with a juicy orange note to the acidity and plenty more of that cedary, spicy character too. A big wine, just beginning to soften at the edges, and drinking very well. 91/100.
Château de Sabazan, Saint Mont 2008, France
Deep and vividly purple/black, this has real fragrance: a violet and cherry lift to a seam of darker, chocolaty black fruit that is glossy and still quite primary. Small tobacco and smoky notes too. On the palate it is more one-dimensional than the older wines, which is perhaps to be expected, but what it lacks in layering it makes up for with a plush, concentrated palate of savoury, dark fruit and a creaminess to the tannins and acidity. This drinks really well, and given the wines above, I’d guess it has 10 years of cellaring potential. 91/100.
Château de Sabazan, Saint Mont 2011, France
The current release of Sabazan at time of writing has changed very little since that 1988 in terms of packaging or the source and blend of the wine in the bottle. Like the 2008 this is dense and quite tightly-wound in a youthful grip of solid black fruit and polished, subtle oak at the moment. Glimpses of that floral, fragrant aspect and smokiness come through. On the palate it is a smooth, concentrated, intense young wine where the tight tannin structure and serious, savoury quality of fruit are intertwined, nothing too showy here, just a bit of serious intent and fine balance with a leaner note of acidity supporting the weight and concentration. A firm but very classy style this, with ageing potential. 91/100. There are no UK stockists of this at time of writing, but use this wine-searcher link to find any current stockists in the UK or worldwide.