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Sébastien Riffault, 2013 Update

There can be few more impassioned, idiosyncratic or inspiring figures on the natural wine scene than Sébastien Riffault. His vineyards are managed on organic lines, with a sprinkling of biodynamic work where it takes his fancy. He works the soil with the help of his horse, Ophélie; this dependence on horsepower rather than a tractor can be traced back to the teachings of his early mentor, Olivier Cousin. He doesn’t plough regularly though, as he prefers to permit the growth of wild plants and flowers between the rows, bringing increased biodiversity. When it comes to winemaking, the favoured material for the vessels is old wood, and I hardly need indicate that what happens next is the work of yeast inhabiting the winery, without levurage, and without enzymes or other additives. This includes sulphur dioxide; one or two cuvées see an addition at bottling but otherwise the regimen here is sulphur-free. There is a full malolactic fermentation, and then bottling without fining or filtration. No wonder his wines have found their way into the hearts of ‘natural’ wine enthusiasts.

Sébastien Riffault

Having already profiled Sébastien Riffault on Winedoctor a year or two ago, I met up with him twice more in 2013 to acquaint myself further with his wines. The first occasion was in February 2013, in Angers. I tasted five wines from the 2010 vintage, and I was impressed by the rich, bold character of the wines. Some of them showed signs of their oxidative construction, the flavours and overall feel of the wine veering towards the ‘brown’ (nuts, paper, coffee, etc.) style of oxidative wine, and away from the more ‘grey’ (steel, smoke, stone, etc.) style of a more reductively managed wine. Nevertheless these were notes of the background construct of the wines, and they were underpinned by an energy that is missing from overtly oxidised wines. There were floral nuances to them as well, and the sensations of passing seasons (see my notes below) as I tasted through the portfolio was genuine and quite enchanting; rarely does the language of my tasting notes develop such emotive allegory. Watch out Andrew Jefford!

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