Sablet, Southern Rhône. One of the most romantic villages in France, and home to a very sensuous wine.

The enchanting vineyards of Sablet, in the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, are built on a mound of sand, from which its name derives. The town and its surrounding vineyards are located at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail. The terroir is of sandy soils and decalcified red clays mixed with pebbles of various sizes.

Sablet was founded by the Counts of Toulouse. The papacy of Avignon owned these lands and confirmed the viticultural region officially in the 14th century. Rich winemaking history continued until the end of the 19th century. Then the vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera. Incidentally, it was a Sabletain who, by inventing the grafting machine, made it possible to restore the vineyards to health.

Sablet acquired its wine region title of nobility, “Côtes du Rhône Villages Communal” in 1974. Wine production is 90% red wines, made from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. With a full bodied fleshy mouthfeel, the region’s red wines are full-bodied, with flavors of ripe blackberries, violets and dried fruits. White wines account for 8% of production. Sablet’s structured whites are noble, fresh and delicious, characterized by spicy notes with a touch of vanilla. The remaining 2% are rosé wines.

I think back to my most memorable visit to village a few short years ago. A fine experience it was to have a vertical tasting of Sablet wines in the old stone building set up with dozens of local domaines (wineries) for a bunch of us wine journalists. We tasted vintages that went back 20 years. You could taste the progression of maturity as you went back year by year. All memorable. One of the best was from Piaugier. I had the distinct pleasure to meet Jean-Marc Autran from Domaine de Piaugier. Loved his wines then. Love them now! He continues to produce outstanding wines of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. They are rustic yet elegant, rich, yet sometimes delicate.  Sensuous flavours in the glass.

Jean-Marc and his wife Sophie cultivate 30 hectares of vines. They hav 12.5 hectares there in the Sablet AOC. And a small plot of 3.5 hectares is within the nearby Gigondas Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée area, and 14 hectares are Côtes du Rhône vineyards. One of the advantages of the domaine is that even withn an AOC, the vineyards are split into many smaller plots, each with its different soil type : clay with limestone and sand, clay with chalk, and sand and gravel soils. The weather is even slightly different from one vineyard to another, creating its own influence on the grapes from plot to plot. Another advantage Piaugier enjoys: the vines by this time are 20 to 40 years old. They’re in their prime. These are truly excellent wines.

Try to get you hands on Piaugier Sablet Rouge. This outstanding wine is a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah. Grown in mostly clay-limestone sand, the grapes are picked by hand and macerated in concrete vats for 2 to 3 weeks before pressing. The Grenache is aged in the vats for 18 months. The Syrah is aged in old barrels. The two varietals are then blended for bottling. This is an elegant, rustic, dark, full-bodied extravaganza in a bottle. A must if you love wine!

Yes, I’m a huge fan of Sablet (the town and the wines). They’re a gem. This is southeastern France at its best and the wines are liquid testimony of the fact.

Above: Interactive Google Satellite Map

I remember the vertical tastings coming to a close that night. A misty black shrouded the nearby foothills as we drove back to our Bed and Breakfast in Cairrane. As we wound our way down narrow roads, little galaxies of light punctuated the black, each a village in the dark, nestled in the Alpine foothills here in the Southern Rhône.

Here are a couple of low res pics from my old cell phone’s outdated camera that day …

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