Clos Saint-Jean Sanctus Sanctorum (1.5 Liter Magnum) 2018
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
When I visited in June 2019, the selection for the 2018 Chateauneuf du Pape Sanctus Sanctorum hadn't yet been done, so this is my first look at the wine. It's marked by the new oak demi-muids, with layers of vanilla and cedar sitting atop luscious cherry fruit on the nose, and slightly drying wood tannins evident on the full-bodied palate and extending through the long finish. Personally, I prefer the less-obvious wood and nuanced complexities in the estate's other premium cuvées in 2018, but there is no denying the hedonistic appeal of this 100% Grenache.
Clos Saint Jean is a 41 hectare estate in Châteauneuf-du-Pape run by brothers Vincent and Pascal Maurel. Considered by many critics and wine-writers as the preeminent estate espousing the modern style of winemaking in Châteauneuf, this cellar is one of the oldest in the region having been founded in 1900 by the great-great-grandfather of Vincent and Pascal, Edmund Tacussel. A short time after its founding and well before the AOP of Chateauneuf-du-Pape was created in 1923, Edmund began bottling estate wines in 1910.
The various vineyards of Clos Saint Jean are located primarily in the region of Le Crau. This plateau is perhaps the most iconic of the many terroirs of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, iron-rich red clays topped with galets. While about 60% of their vineyards are located here, specifically in the lieu-dits of Côteau de Saint Jean and Cabane de Saint-Jean, another 40% are located in alluvial clay and sandy soils adjacent to the plateau. They also own a small parcel of Mourvedre in the lieu-dit of Bois-Dauphin near Château Rayas planted on sandy, limestone-rich soils.
The farming at Clos Saint Jean is fully sustainable due to the warm and dry climate which obviates the need for chemical inputs. Vincent and Pascal employ organic methods for pest control, mainly pheromones to prevent pests from taking up Le Crau with Châteauneuf-du-Pape on the horizon.
Famous for its full-bodied, seductive and spicy reds with flavor and aroma characteristics reminiscent of black cherry, baked raspberry, garrigue, olive tapenade, lavender and baking spice, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the leading sub-appellation of the southern Rhône River Valley. Large pebbles resembling river rocks, called "galets" in French, dominate most of the terrain. The stones hold heat and reflect it back up to the low-lying gobelet-trained vines. Though the galets are typical, they are not prominent in every vineyard. Chateau Rayas is the most obvious deviation with very sandy soil.
According to law, eighteen grape varieties are allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and most wines are blends of some mix of these. For reds, Grenache is the star player with Mourvedre and Syrah coming typically second. Others used include Cinsault, Counoise and occasionally Muscardin, Vaccarèse, Picquepoul Noir and Terret Noir.
Only about 6-7% of wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape is white wine. Blends and single-varietal bottlings are typically based on the soft and floral Grenache Blanc but Clairette, Bourboulenc and Roussanne are grown with some significance.
The wine of Chateauneuf-du-Pape takes its name from the relocation of the papal court to Avignon. The lore says that after moving in 1309, Pope Clément V (after whom Chateau Pape-Clément in Pessac-Léognan is named) ordered that vines were planted. But it was actually his successor, John XXII, who established the vineyards. The name however, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, translated as "the pope's new castle," didn’t really stick until the 19th century.
With bold fruit flavors and accents of sweet spice, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre form the base of the classic Rhône Red Blend, while Carignan, Cinsault and Counoise often come in to play. Though they originated from France’s southern Rhône Valley, with some creative interpretation, Rhône blends have also become popular in other countries. Somm Secret—Putting their own local spin on the Rhône Red Blend, those from Priorat often include Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In California, it is not uncommon to see Petite Sirah make an appearance.