Sébastien Riffault, 2015 Update
After a few tastings you sometimes begin to think you know a vigneron. You catch sight of him or her as soon as you set foot inside the tasting room, one familiar face among many. Sébastien Riffault is one such character. I have met and tasted with him on numerous occasions, and his wines increasingly feel reassuringly familiar. That is not to say they are typical of the Sancerre appellation, and indeed I continue to be amazed that he has success in obtaining the agrément for these wines, which seem to me to be so far removed from what the majority of us look for in this most famous of wine regions. This is especially so in light of a recent visit to the region when I met another vigneron (whose identity I can’t reveal) whose wine was going back for a third and final assessment, having been rejected twice, to see if it could have the Sancerre appellation, despite it being – to my palate – well within the spectrum of what we should expect from the presence of this name on the label. Sébastien’s wines are atypical and idiosyncratic, the oxidative style engendering scents of warm hay and summer meadows, not something I encounter anywhere else in the appellation. They are distinctive, stand-alone wines. But as I said, today they have a certain familiarity.
Well, so I thought anyway. Having tasted a number of the cuvées tasted here before, a year ago, I was unprepared for how much they have evolved in just twelve months. They still show the overtly oxidative style that is a hallmark of the Riffault wines, but they are now also expressing much more botrytis, a feature not so apparent last year. The presence of noble rot seems to be a significant feature of the vintage, because 20% botrytis is the lightest touch Riffault (pictured above) gives us in 2011, with several cuvées carrying 50% botrytis. Having said that the final wine, from 2010, is a selection he made from the Auksinis vineyard which goes all the way up to 100%. This botrytis-defined style is further amplified by the use of malolactic fermentation, a long élevage in old wood, and his usual zero-sulphur dioxide philosophy (for all but Les Quarterons) bringing all the usual oxidative facets to the wines which were plainly apparent last year. It is of course not unusual for these wines to have some botrytis in, after all it is part of Sébastien’s philosophy to pick late, looking for some botrytis influence (as does his good friend Alexandre Bain in Pouilly-Fumé). But the botrytis feels more dominant and expressive in these wines today.Please log in to continue reading: