Sébastien Riffault has been mentioned in this blog many times, so it’s about time we highlight one of his wines. These are full of personality. Riffault’s sauvignons are maybe not you would think of when hearing the word Sancerre. But this is maybe Sancerre like in the old days, before all the corrections became the norm.
Sébastien cultivates twelve hectares of vineyard in Sury-en-Vaux. He also plants trees to contribute to the diversity. He can harvest several times, but in general grapes can hang on the vines for a long time -Mid-October is normal- so they achieve full ripening. .As a result of the late harvest, some of the grapes are affected by botrytis. Unlike most other Sancerre wines, Sébastien’s. wines also undergo malolactic fermentation.
Everything is cultivates according to biodynamic principles, and the whole vineyard is certified organic. Sébastien uses horse and plow in many of the vineyards, because it gives better soil quality. In the cellar, nothing is added, neither are they fined nor filtered (except for a tiny amount of sulphur and lightly filtering of one wine).
This week’s selected wine is from nobody else than natural wine guru Jean-Pierre Robinot.
As the story goes, Robinot fell in love with wine at a young age, moved to Paris, met some of the pioneers of natural wine and opened L’Ange Vin, one of the first bars dedicated to that kind of drinks.
Soon he decided to make natural wines himself, and moved back to Chahaignes, where he grew up, in the north of Loire.
The rest is history, as they say. He offers one wine better than the other; easy-to-drink and serious at the same time, they keep for weeks after opening, they express their origins magnificently, and they are highly original.
Jean-Pierre owns around 8 hectares of vines in the two appellations Jasnières and the Coteaux du Loir, soils red clay, limestone and silex. And the fermentations, they can last for months, years, in the ancient underground caves.
The Brutus Bar is located just beside the police headquarters in the Tøyen-Grønland district in Oslo, so it’s no use trying to make big trouble. Anyway, there are only nice, well-behaved people here even if the area historically has been high-immigrant, low-income with more than its fair share of problems. To be fair, right now this is a promising neighbourhood in many respects.
Brutus offers natural wine and a variety of bites to accompany them. From my experience, in a bar with such a careful selection of wines and the expertise to present them the food is often delicious too. Which proved to be true – again. Brutus are fabled for their vegetable based kitchen, and lately the traditional Nordic kitchen, rustic, with fermented vegetables as one of the main ideas, is focused. However, in our set 4 course menu the third one was lamb, and with lovely scents from the aromatic herbs.
We had the sauvignon with “Carrot and Haddock”
John Sonnichsen and Jens Føien lead import company VinJohn, one of the main players behind the bar. Together they have experience from such places as The Fat Duck, Maaemo and Noma. VinJohn is obviously one of the suppliers, but by no means not the only one.
This week’s wine though, is brought to the country by the people behind the bar. It’s not widely available, another reason to come here.
Alexandre Bain is a small vigneron from Tracy-sur-Loire, in the Poully-Fumé. He started his own project in 2007 and employs biodynamic techniques.
There are two types of limestone in the vineyards, vines from the so-called Portlandian (as opposed to the older Kimmeridgian), with sand and clay, are used for this wine, as he thinks this soil is more suitable for wines meant to be drunk young. These vines were planted in 1977.
No additives are used, except for sometimes a tiny amount of SO2 before bottling (10 mg in this particular wine), and only native yeasts. The harvest is late because Bain believes that sauvignon blanc is at its most expressive with complete ripeness. When picked too early, there will never be enough aromatic character, he believes, and many producers must then compensate by using commercial yeast. These are thoughts that he shares with his friend Sébastien Riffault in neighbouring Sancerre.
The grapes were pressed in whole clusters, and the must raised in big old vats.
Pierre Précieuse 2015 (Alexandre Bain)
Dark yellow, somewhat cloudy. Fruity style, aromas of lemon, elderberry and a touch of acacia honey. Quite full, a mid-palate dominated by grapefruit, and a lingering finish with a touch of bitterness.
Food: Salads, goat cheese, light meat, grilled fish, and try with sushi and sashimi
The Vaillant family started vinegrowing in La Roche Aubry (Anjou, Loire Valley) in the 17th century. Today they dispose over 55 hectars, and the farming is organic and biodynamic, only chenin blanc for white wines.
The soils vary greatly, schists, quartz, sands… They use composts from animal manure, and only a few treatments like copper, sulphur and some made of infusions of plants.
This wine was, as indicated, made from 100% chenin blanc, spontaneously fermented in big barrels, and it was bottled unfiltered.
La Varenne du Poirier 2014 (Dom. Les Grandes Vignes – Vaillant)
Cloudy orange with a greenish hue. Mature apples (cidery), white flowers, yellow tomatoes, nuts and a touch of honey. Good concentration and high acidity wrapped in super fruit, and just a slight touch of tannin. Quaffable indeed.
Food: Grilled fish, salads, chicken and other light meat, white goat cheeses
Here is a terrific cabernet franc from Chinon in the Loire valley, maybe the most famous place for that grape.
The winery is located in Cravant-les-Côteaux, near the village of Chinon. Fabrice Gasnier is 4th generation. Together with his wife Sandrine he disposes of mostly old-vine cabernet franc planted on plots with chalk, gravel, sand and clay soils. For almost ten years it has been certified for both organic and biodynamic growing.
For this wine there was manual harvest from the more than 80 year old vines. The must was spontaneously fermented and aged 6 months in big oak vats.
Vieille Vignes 2014 (Dom. Fabrice Gasnier)
Dark, young colour. Needs air, but opens and reveals dark berries, green peppers and aromatic herbs. Lovely, luscious taste, and can be appreciated alone, but with an astringency that makes it go well with food too. Concentrated with good length.
Muscadet by the Loire is maybe underestimated. At least it’s undoubtedly good value. Even this wine, handmade, low-sulphur, natural and with loads of character, is very good value. It’s a wine that evokes memories of summer, flowers and sunshine.
This one is made by Jo Landron, that started to make wines with his father back in 1979 and has since walked the steps via “normal” organic to biodynamic farming.
This wine is from 40 years old melon de bourgogne vines, fermentation in cement with indigenous yeasts, the malolactic was blocked to retain the freshness, and the wine was bottled unfiltered.
La Fief du Breil 2013 (Jo Landron)
Straw-coloured. Bread and yeast aromas from ageing on lees, wet stone. Full, round on the palate, chalky minerality and just enough acidity to match.
Food: Tasty fish, salads, creamy cheeses
This is an all time favourite, a nice ‘n easy summer drink. I admit I don’t fully understand the name, but still I feel that it says it all – an invitation to drink, to sing and whistle.
François and Pascaline Plouzeau run their Domaine de la Garrelière, near the Richelieu village just outside Tours in the Loire valley. Here they follow strict biodynamic principles. The wines carry labels made by local artists that reflect the wines’ names.
The Gamay Sans Tralala is made from 100 gamay, and is fermented naturally. It’s just lovely, joyous, gluggable… Need I say more?
Gamay Sans Tralala 2015 (Domaine de la Garrelière)
Delicious, light wine with aroma of berries and flowers, and a slight touch of spices. Luscious and fruity in the mouth, low in tannin, and with just enough acidity.
Food: Salads, light meat and some fish dishes too, but this joyous song doesn’t really need any accompaniment
Egget (The Egg) didn’t come first, only around a year ago. But it managed to bring new concepts to the already varied gastronomic scene in Stavanger, a Norwegian town with more than its fair share of cafés and restaurants. This is mainly because the country’s most important culinary educational institutions have been located here. Add to this the nearness to the oil industry and university students from across the country, and I think you are beginning to get the big picture.
What is special then? The obvious features are the facts that the responsibles at Egget don’t have written menus, nor wine lists – and they don’t take bookings. Other than this they seem to have a rather holistic approach, and I doubt they have fixed prices for every dish or every wine.
But maybe the most important: I can’t think of any other restaurant in the area with extremely high ambitions in wine and food, without being formal and pricy. One of Egget’s nearest neighbours just up the street, the first one outside Oslo to receive a Michelin star, can exemplify this. (No offence, that one is excellent too, but more “formal-normal”.)
Left to right: Diego Gimeno, Roy Klausen, Benoît Berthail (not present that day: head-chef Anthony Orjollet, creator of most of the dishes)
This time I visited at late lunch-time with a friend. And when we sat down at a table of our choice the relaxing reggae music was turned down to a perfect level. We shared tapa-sized dishes throughout the meal. Our waiter, Ben, made it clear that it was squid day, as the food is always based on today’s catch, and the squid was especially good that day. So along came squid in its own ink, in a salad – and a dish that looked like a chocolate cake, but it was in fact a risotto that included squid with ink as well. There was a ceviche of cod, and a hot dish made with skate (you know that fish that looks like a kite in the water), fermented carrots, grilled milk-marinated lamb… The ingredients and techniques are taken from anywhere in the world, but quality and creativity are common denominators.
The wines are what I like to call natural wines; you know, artisan, low-intervention, organic wines, even without added sulphur, and they are without exception served by the glass. For me Egget is a place I go to get surprised. Sometimes I want to discuss a few options with the waiter, but most often he will suggest a wine, and I will say “ok”. And what to serve with the wines? Well, the kitchen is absolutely free to chose. The food is always superb, often with a creative twist, and with the wines they serve here it has never struck me that the food and the wine didn’t match.
When you enter the place, you notice oak barrels from Rioja producer Muga in their yard. But you better look upon them as tables, as the wines served are neither oaky nor old-fashioned (and with all respect, Muga is not in the avant-garde of Spanish wine any more, if they ever were).
The first wine this time was the white Amphibolite Nature 2015 from producer Joseph Landron in Loire’s Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine. Landron disposes of 45 hectars with varying soil. Amphibolite is the name of the stones that can be found in this particular vineyard, containing magnesium and iron silicate. When the mélon de Bourgogne vines are rooted deep in this soil it can transmit very mineral character to the wine. The wine was slender, citrusy, mineral and structured.
Next was a light red grenache-based wine, Cuvée Romanissa 2014 from Domaine Matassa, on the French side of Catalunya. The grapes are grown in schistous soils rich in iron, and it’s very luscious and fresh, with aromas of red berries and herbs.
We were also offered the Flotsam & Jetsam Cinsault 2015, from Hemelrand (Alheit Vineyards) in South Africa’s Darling region. Also light coloured, this one had more roundness, and a sensation of sweetness from the cinsault grapes. Strawberry is maybe the dominant aroma, but it showed some spiciness too.
Éric Texier’s Chat Fou (Crazy Cat) is a long time favourite, now in the 2014 vintage. This time we ended with this lovely unfiltered Côtes du Rhône, with its blend of 50% grenache, the rest a mix of four other Rhône grapes, including the white marsanne and rousanne. It was the darkest wine of the lunch, but still deliciouis, luscious summer drinking – yet concentrated and with a hint of spices. Éric isn’t one who uses many tricks to make his wines darker, fatter, more tannic… On the contrary his minimal intervention philosophy seems to maintain a perfect balance in his wines.
This was a few days ago, when everyone was preparing for Norway’s national day. I bet many people were crowding up on that day too. Lucky the ones who managed to get one of the 5 or 6 tables. New surprises. Hooray!
Anyway that’s the meaning of the expression Nuit d’Ivresse. It’s in the middle of the Loire valley that this wine starts its life, on limestone and clay-silex ground. Catherine and Pierre Breton has 6 hectars of vineyards in the Borgueil-Chinon-Vouvray area, and they made their first Ivresse wine without addition of SO2 in 1992.
The wine is certified organic, made from cabernet franc grapes, and has undergone a three week long fermentation that startet with indigenious yeasts. Both malolactic and a 12 month ageing was done in two year old barrels, and the wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered – and again without addition of sulphur.
I first tasted this wine in a wine club in 2014. Now I came across it again, and while slightly more evolved it still had a lot of lovely fruit.
Nuits d’Ivresse 2011 (C. & P. Breton)
Dark red. Aromas of blackcurrant, raspberry, a bit balsamic, Earl Grey tea. Less structured than last time, but still with a certain grip, just lovely, and with just the right acidity and concentration for “inspired” drinking.
Food: Red and light meat, game, hard cheeses
For six generations or more than 180 years the Amirault family has stayed at Le Clos des Quarterons. They claim to constantly strive to achieve a natural balance across the entire estate. This led them to the decision to run the vineyard biodynamically.
The grape is cabernet franc grown in a soil mainly of gravel and silty clay, with some limestone. The grapes were harvested by hand, macerated in tank for 5 to 6 weeks, and aged for more than a month in demi-muids (500 litre barrels). It was a blend from all the old plots of vines on the estate (average age 55 years).
Le Clos de Quarterons Vielles Vignes 2012 (Amirault Vignerons)
With decanting the wine reveals traces of violet, blueberry and blackcurrant. Quite soft, quite complex, and by no means marked by the oak.
Food: Red meat, game, salads, some not too spicy dishes, and according to the producer: Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”