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).
Finally I got the chance to visit Rodrigo Filipe, who makes the wonderful Humus wines. He can be found at his farm Quinta do Paço in the village Alvorninha. This is in the Óbidos part in the far north of the big Lisboa region. Here he makes cool Atlantic wines, guided by nature, experience and intuition, more than school oenology.
Before this day I had enjoyed a few of his wines at wine bars and cafés, such as this one. So I felt that I visit was overdue, and I am very glad that I finally made it to the quinta to meet the sympathetic man behind the work.
Quinta do Paço is a family propriety of a total of 20 hectares, of which around 10 are planted with vines. We are about 150 meters above sea level, between the Atlantic and the Serra dos Candeeiros range that enjoys a special soil and climate. The soil is calcareous/limestone with clay. The valley lies in a north-west direction, that secures longer maturation, and more acidity in the wines. Having said that, the wind was also shifting while we were there, so at one point there came a warmer breeze from the east (-from Spain, he joked). But as a whole the cool Atlantic breeze and high humidity contribute to a slow ripening and a high natural acidity.
Coming from a job as an engineer, Rodrigo took over the farm from his father in 2000, and it was from then that the project became more serious. It has been learning by doing, sometimes wrong, but always in a clear direction towards tasty and healthy wines. In other words, Rodrigo had no formal training in wine at the time. And even if he has taken a few courses, to this day he takes many decisions by experience and intuition, such as determing when to harvest.
The grapes are mainly local, or at least of Portuguese origin. -We use the grapes that are best adapted to our place, and the yields are kept lower than normal for the area, says Rodrigo. -We give special treat to the soil, because it must be alive to bring out the best of the varieties.
The beans give nitrogene to the soil
As we walk around the property it becomes clear that Rodrigo is in harmony with his farm and the land, and the farming is just very simple. He fertilizes with natural compost, and of additives there is only occational use of small quantities of copper and sulphur. Fermentation starts by itself after 5-6 days. The white wines are fermented in used barrels, and the reds are destemmed, pressed, fermented in steel and aged in used oak. The wines are never fined or filtered. We believe him easily when he tells that he has great pleasure to make, and share, authentic wines made in a very natural way.
The vigorous touriga nacional grape, here with eucalyptus to the left and cork trees in the middle
As we went along we tasted a few samples. A castelão 2017 was full of red fruits, still a little reduced (like some of the other wines, but it’s fixed with airing), mellow in the mouth, and the 16 (less maceration, 5 days) was lighter with lovely fruit and a wonderful natural acidity.
A touriga nacional rosé 17 (an “acidity year”, as Rodrigo puts it) had a wonderful salmon pink colour, strawberry and floral aromas, quite full in the mouthh, and yes, a refreshing acidity. Among the other 17’s a fernão pires was delighful, quite full and glyceric, with aromas of flowers, herbs and some wax. An arinto had the typical lemony acidity, and both apple and some herbs on the nose.
The barrels used are 10 years old. Chestnut was tradition here, just like clay
A white touriga nacional, a “blanc de noirs” 2017 matured 6 months over arinto skins (how did he come up with that idea anyway?): Yellow with trace of red; appley and grapey with some pharmacy notes. What is more: There is one over fernão pires skins too. Salmon pink colour, this was more fruity, still with apple notes, but flowers and menthol, and with a dry texture. Rodrigo explains, -Chestnut and clay give dryness, the wine “oxidizes” more because of a longer distance between the fibres, while oak can give a reductive tone. Then these two can balance each other.
We tried more touriga samples. Not to bore my readers too much I can say that the samples follow the line of the bottled wines; they are cool, natural with a fresh Atlantic feel.
Rodrigo together with Luis Gil after a long day in the vineyard
Among the bottled wines we tasted the cool and fruity Espumante 2010 and a Rosé (a blend of 2014-15-16, mostly castelão). Then on to the Humus range:
Humus Branco (no added sulfites) 2016 from fernão pires and arinto: Light yellow; it smells of matura apples, it’s also waxy in the aroma (from fernão pires); it’s full on the palate, a bit buttery, and with a good acidity (for which arinto is often a guarantist, but here also the climate). It has in fact more arinto, but the fernão pires shows a lot of influence.
Humus Curtimenta 2016: This is a creative take. The wine has also arinto and sauvignon blanc, that are fermented with skins for three months. This is added to freshly pressed touriga nacional (“blanc de noirs”). The colour thus becomes orange, and with a certain structure. But it’s still in a way soft and mellow, I would say elegant. It has a lovely fruit, on the tropical side, but also flowers, citrus and a nutty touch. This is very pure and lively, full of taste, just delicious.
Humus 2012, a 100% castelão, was ruby red with aromas of red berries (cherry, raspberry) and some darker tones behind it. Likewise the fruit was forward, but there was also a slight tannin bite, and a fresh acidity. Very drinkable, very appealing.
Humus (no added sulfites) 2013: This wine, from touriga nacional and syrah, showed really nice, fresh fruit, violets, dark berries (blackcurrant), a balsamic touch. The tannins were round, the fruit ripe and with a slighly sweet spicy note, and with a long aftertaste.
Humus (no added sulfites) 2011 from touriga nacional and syrah: This is the second year without additions, not even SO2. It was a warm vintage, and the wine showed wild and meaty, on the nose dark berries, flowers and an earthy tone. Rich, with marmelade and spices.
A lovely bunch of wines, all lively, fresh, natural, and with the outstanding creative invention Curtimenta in the middle
Field blend is an expression that’s used when the grape blend is ready made in the vineyard. I think it’s never more appropriate than when you don’t know the blend exactly, like in the old days when the wine maker wanted some extra freshness from let’s say a white grape in a red wine and they were grown side by side.
Here is an orange wine from Giulio Armani, the wine maker behind the more famous La Stoppa of Emilia-Romagna.
Denavolo is his own project, where he makes two wines. This one is the little brother, the Dinavolino. It’s made from malvasia aromatica, otrugo, marsanne, trebbialo, santa maria, sauvignon blanc, and this unidentified performer.
It got 6 months of skin contact and was unoaked, spontaneously fermented, unfiltered and just lightly sulphured.
Dinavolino 2015 (Denavolo)
Light orange-brown colour. Floral aroma with touches of peach, orange peel and dried fruits. Light and refreshing, still with evident tannins, nice acidity and good length.
Food: Meats from lamb to chicken, and charcuterie, grilled fish, a variety of cheeses (almost everything, as you have understood by now)
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
A few weeks ago we presented a wine from the southern part of the Chilean vineyard. Here is one from the Valle de Elquí, located in the very north, at the edge of the Atacama desert (one of the world’s driest places). This used to be pisco land (Chile shares both this sour grape liqueur and the desert with its neighbour Peru). Nowadays Elquí is noted for fresh and fragrant wines, from sauvignon blanc, syrah and other grapes.
Giorgio Flessati and Aldo Olivier (photo: V. Falernia)
Elqui means ‘narrow valley’ in the local quechua language, and it’s still a place with herds of vicuña, a relative of the more famous llama. (Believe me, I have seen them myself!) As expected, the valley is hot and dry, and irrigation is essencial. Host to a number of astronomical observatories, this province is famous for the bright light, the pure air and the clear sky. In fact the number of sunlight hours is higher than anywhere in Europe. But the vineyards go up to 2.000 meters above sea level, and the nights are cool, so the growth cycle can be slow, and it’s still possible to achieve a degree of acidity in the wines.
Vicuña, eh… Well, here is one
While closer to the Pacific coast at lower altitudes, the soils have more clay and silt, the soils up here are rocky with chalky components. There was almost no vinegrowing in Elquí before the 1990’s, when the trade began to seek alternatives to the areas around Santiago. Aldo Olivier Gramola (a native from Trentino, Italy) was one of the people who realized the potential. When Aldo met his cousin, oenologist Giorgio Flessati, Chile’s most northernly winery Viña Falernia was established in 1998.
The grapes for the Sauvignon Blanc was handpicked, the vinification was carried out in steel tanks and stayed on the lees for 6 months. A small percentage of the must was aged 4 months in oak casks.
Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (Viña Falernia)
Light yellow with hints of green. Aroma of white flowers, mature berries, aromatic herbs and fennel (maybe from the oak treatment). Mellow in the mouth, with a decent acidity, good concentration and lenght.
Food: Fish, shellfish, chicken, salads, white cheese
You might think that Antidote could have something to do with the Remedy restaurant, about which I wrote a few months ago, at least their names could suggest so. But no. They have a few things in common though, they both offer a cure against depressive tendencies, and they offer well-prepared bites, and a lot of good, healthy wines – all worked organically, many biodynamically in the vineyard.
They rely on market catch, and the menu changes often. The food is quite simple, but well made, and often with both a modern touch and inspired by several corners of the world. The wine list is quite extensive, and there is a good selection of wines by the glass. They say that the wines come largely from France. That’s true, but I have spotted wines from other European countries like Italy, Spain and Slovenia, an occational one from Greece, and outside Europe too, such as Australia.
I visited this cosy Soho locale twice in August, the first time with my daughter who is vegan, and they were very helpful, and gladly made some creative twists. Second time was the day after, when I had some more wines and a couple more bites.
Along with their “Heritage Tomato” dish (with lemon, lovage parsley and goat’s curd) I had Ch. la Coste “Pentes Douces 2014 (Ch. la Coste), a provencal blend of vermentino and sauvignon blanc: light in colour, a rich aroma with hints of herbs, and a slightly warm touch in the aftertaste. With next bite, Spring Onions with egg yolk, comté cheese and buckwheat, I tried Clef de Sol 2014 (La Grange Tiphaine) from Montlois sur Loire, a light, fruity, mineral chenin blanc, with a lot of acidity wrapped in super fruit. Following this with the same dish I tried what turned out to be one of the stars of the evening, Maupiti 2014 (Clos de l’Elu), a light red wine from Anjou, also in the Loire. This one is made from gamay and cabernet franc. It shows lots of red berries, it’s fresh and fruity, mellow in the mouth and just delicious drinking.
La Poudre d’Escampette 2014 (from winery Le Casot des Mailloles) is a dry red wine from Banyuls, quite unusual for the area’s image as a dessert wine region. It’s made from 120 year old grenache and 80 year old carignan vines. An unpasturized camembert from Normandie was perfectly matched with the (to a certain extent volatile) acidity of the high-hill wine. A good match was also the ossau-iraty, a sheep’s milk cheese from French Basque Country.
An unusual wine to round off maybe, but excellent there and then, was I Clivi RBL 2014, a biodynamically farmed, native yeast spumante brut nature from the grape known as ribolla gialla in Friuli, Italy, close to the Slovenian border. It was dry, but rounded off, fruity, a little carbonic-mineral, and nice for washing away what might remain of the fat from the cheeses.
“Typical” sauvignons are by many regarded as the easiest of all to detect in a blind tasting. However, there are many factors that can contribute to the grape’s aromas, and many are still under investigation. Undoubtedly, added yeast is among the techniques. But there are also producers here with what we would call a natural approach, with Sébastien Riffault in Sancerre as possibly the most famous.
A tasting in our private wine club showed quite varied aspects of New Zealand’s wines, among the sauvignons too. There were two splendid wines from Greywacke Vineyards, a late harvest riesling and our wine of the week, the Wild Sauvignon, this one too made only with the yeasts from the grape and the environment.
Kevin Judd was co-founding winemaker when Cloudy Bay embarked on their success story in the mid-80’s. But Judd went on to fulfill his own project in 2009, after having planned it for a long time, including acquisition of vineyards in Marlborough. The name Greywacke was registered back in 1993, and named after the type of rounded stones found everywhere in the country.
Essential in the winemaking is mature grapes from quality sites in the central Wairau Plains and the Southern Valleys, cultivated with low yields and strong canopy management.
The grapes were mostly harvested by hand, then pressed lighly. The juice was spontaneously fermented in old French oak, stayed there for around 6 months, where some 2/3 underwent malo-lactic fermentation. It then stayed on yeast lees in inox for another 5 months, and the wine was only lightly filtered before bottling.
Wild Sauvignon 2014 (Greywacke)
Straw yellow, grey, not shiny. Aromas of oranges, almonds, flowers, herbs (thyme), and a slight touch of toast and vanillin. In the mouth it shows a rich and creamy texture, nice concentration, with a balancing acidity that contributes to a lingering finish.
Food: White fish, grilled seafood, sushi, creamy cheeses
I intended to feature another wine this week, a really serious one from an important place. But the sun is shining, and life is laughing, and…. The whole world smiles with you (goes the song). So heaven can wait (goes another song)!
Here is a simple, straight-forward and delicious summer white from New Zealand, where sauvignon blanc has made itself a paradise during the last 50 years or so. The Matua company sources their grapes from Hawkes’ Bay on the North Island, and Marlborough and Central Otago on the South Island, the latter a pretty chilly place that can give a really refreshing acidity to the wines. Some are blends, some are regional wines by grape, and Matua go all the way to single vineyard varietal wines.
This one comes from their so-called regional range, and the region in question being Marlborough on the northern tip of the South Island. Not so chilly as Central Otago, but with enough variation to give enough oenological possibilities. The Spence brothers claim to have produced the first Kiwi sauvignon blanc in 1974. Since 2008 Nikolai St. George has been chief winemaker, and Bob Spence still popping into the winery once in a while to make sure that ‘the eternal summer shall not fade’… (Shakespeare)
Nik St. George
Matua Organic Sauvignon Balanc 2015 (Matua)
Light yellow with greenish tones. Lovely scent of sauvignon gooseberry, passion fruit, kiwi and lime. A body that’s more towards slender than fat, and just the right acidity to keep it together. It’s a wine that breathes, full of life. Yes, it’s a modern inox-made wine, but somehow they have managed to avoid those ‘closed’ canned-pear aromas that often follow with that technique. Pure fun!
No visit to Madrid without visiting Carlos and his friendly staff at Solo de Uva. This time I came with my friend, wine photographer Kjell Karlsson, after our mostly independent but parallel trips to León, Valladolid and Salamanca.
Another friend was there too, wine producer Fabio Bartolomei of Vinos Ambiz. This was in the middle of the vintage. Fabio had been harvesting two grape varieties in Gredos and Madrid, and we were happy that he took the time to see us. He had to leave “early” too, as he had to start the elaboration of the harvest at 6 in the morning. The wine is not completely natural, you see…
We started with a rosé from Murcia this time, Viña Enebro, a light violet coloured wine with all the flowers of the murcian plains in the glass. But the wine discussion of the night was centered around the next wine, Fabio’s own sauvignon blanc. I have got used to it, and I love the fruitiness and the fullness, and Fabio has made it, so he must stand up for it. But for Kjell it was quite challenging. I don’t say that he didn’t like it. The discussion was mainly about typicity. In my opinion a wine must first be true… Well, here we must demand that it’s made from natural yeasts, because from bought-in or “selected” yeasts we only get the cliché, not the real thing. And so many of the most famous Sancerre brands are already disqualified, many would say Riffault too (not very famous maybe, outside the natural wine world). And next, is sauvignon the Loire or the New Zealand version, or can it come from Spain? (Syrah came from Asia, remember…)
We tasted two red wines as well, «the wine from Mars», aka El Marciano, Alfredo Maestro’s lovely and fruity Gredos garnacha, and the Alpujarras 1368 from Barranco Oscuro from a vineyard of that height (1368 meters above sea level), a fruity and inspiring wine, a decent touch of oak, but with ageing potential.
Madrid was the place to be for natural wine enthusiasts last Sunday, as the Salón de Vinos Naturales was arranged after an initiative from the Productores de Vinos Naturales. Among the exhibitors were some of their own members, like Barranco Oscuro, and Marenas, whose proprietor José Miguel Márquez is the actual leader of the organization. There were other Spanish producers too, and a few from abroad. The wines were all made by small, artesan producers, almost without exception with natural yeasts, without sulphur added, without much else added either, all in all with minimal intervention.
I tasted something like three fourths of the wines, spoke to most of the producers, and I also met some visitors whom I knew or had met before. For me this is a real fun fair, as you meet a lot of nice people, and everyone is open-minded and willing to share opinions without having to defend anything, and there are no points given. There are just so many delicious tastes, healthy products, and conversations about how all this came about.
I warmed up with some white wines at the stand of Fabio Bartolomei and his Ambiz wines. First a couple of airéns, where the 2012 strangely was lighter than the 2014. But this is the way it is, as Fabio said, these wines chose their own path. I also tasted his Doré 2014, an expressive wine from the grape of the same name, and the Sauvignon 2013, nothing like the commercial Sancerres. It’s aromatic though, with some flowers, yellow apple and a tropical hint. The Albillo 2014 is also full of character, quite rich, with some tannin, and with the balsamic note of the variety.
Samuel Cano was there with most of his portfolio of Patio wines aged beneath the old-fashioned windmills in Mota del Cuervo (Cuenca). Between Aire en el Patio 2014 (literally Air in the Patio, the never-disappointing airén wine) and Al Sol del Patio 2013 (To the Sun of the Patio), there was a wine from syrah grapes harvested as late as end of December in 5 degrees below zero. He had brought his airén-petit verdot Rosé too, and some delicious reds. If I should pick one it could be the Kabronic this time, a 50/50 syrah/graciano, where the latter has been subject to carbonic maceration, showing very fruity, red berries, some balsamic notes, a touch of CO2, and fruit all the way.
From the area not far from Madrid came also Julián Ruíz Villanueva of Escencia Rural. I know he has several good things, in different styles. This time I only tasted the red De Sol a Sol, a dark wine from the variety velasco, quite special, rich, with notes of coffee, aromatic herbs, and a touch of raisins and plums.
Lorenzo Valenzuela served many of his Barranco Oscuro wines, from the highest vineyards in Europe, more specifically Cádiar in las Alpujarras (Granada). I visited some 3-4 years ago, and I have tasted these wines several times since, but I never miss an opportunity. Among all the excellent wines I will this time mention the ultra-fresh and typical Sauvignon (a completely different interpretation than Fabio’s), and the wonderful Garnata, a very fruity, herb-scented and personal garnacha. Fellow Andalusians, Cauzón and Marenas had several interesting wines, like Mazuelo 2014 from the former, and Vides Bravas 2006 from the latter. Being located in Montilla, Marenas has also wines aged under flor, like the one with the descriptive name Bajo Velo PX (that I didn’t taste here).
Lorenzo Valenzuela, Barranco Oscuro
Viña Enebro of Bullas had a varied table. A white wine from black grapes, adecuately named Uva Negra Vino Blanco, a fresh, floral, clean wine, the Rosado de Aguja from monastrell, a fruity wine, a little bubbly of course, but quite structured too. Then there were also the Viña Enebro, the one with the pink label, a 100% monastrell, quite light for the variety, some plums and red berries, a lousicious character, but with a nice tannic grip as well. The Quercus came in both 2010 and ’11. See the post about wine bar Solo de Uva for more.
Juan Pascual López, Viña Enebro
A nice surprise came from Galicia. La Perdida of Larouco in the Valdeorras area served a doña blanca and a godello, but the reds based on garnacha tintorera, one with mencía, were among the highlights for me. Maybe most interesting of all from this producer, also with the name La Perdida 2014, a garnacha tintorera (70%) and sumoll (30%) aged in tinaja (amphora), on granite soil, with splendid clean fruit and a solid tannic grip.
From Catalunya I tasted some nice wines from Can Torres, Empordà, a vinous garnacha blanca from sandy soil over granite ground, and among the reds the interesting Idó 2013, a garnacha from quite old vines on alternating slate and granite, aged in used barrels, a relatively light-coloured wine with aromas of red berries, plums, a rich wine with an appealing texture. The Ambre was one of the specialities of the day, from garnachas gris and tinta, aged in some kind of solera system. The colour was the same as its name suggests, aromas of figs, nuts, a slight touch of raisin, and the alcohol level was very nicely balanced.
Bárbara Magugliani, Can Torres (left)
Among the «foreigners» I didn’t taste the wines of Frank Cornelissen this time, as I know them quite well, and the Spanish were my main focus this time. But I visited the table of Château Lamery of the village St. Pierre d’Auirillac, by the Garonne river. Here Jacques Broustet makes wines that are clearly at home in this locale, but distinctly different from what we think of as Bordeaux. His only red wine Autrement 2011 was luscious and juicy, with a slight tannin, and a lovely fruit all the way.
Jacques Broustet, Ch. Lamery
Domaine Thuronis near Carcassonne in Languedoc had some interesting stuff too. The Esprit Vendangeur 2013 is a sauvignon blanc made naturally, and came with super fruit, yellow apple, melon and some peach, and a trace of CO2 (and the 2012 was in the same line, but a little more developed). There was also a sauvignon made in steel and also a time on the lees of chardonnay in barrel. This was a bit darker, yellow with a brownish tinge, some CO2 again, a creamy texture and a very nice acidity.
There was more than this, and the aforementioned wine bar Solo de Uva was serving home-made bread, tasty tapas, and proprietor Carlos Campillo was filling the room with good vibes. He also hosted a dinner in his restaurant that same evening. I was not there, but it couldn’t be bad.