- Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc
- Medium Bodied
- 13% alc./vol
About the Winery
Stéphane Riffault, son of Claude Riffault, has become one of the most sought-after producers in the region. At barely 30 years old, his Sancerre wines have already become the envy of some of the region's most established vintners.
Stéphane's Sancerre wines come from 33 different parcels in 8 different lieu-dits spread across 4 villages on limestone soils. Having studied and worked in Burgundy, and then trained with some of best – Olivier Leflaive (Burgundy), Château Angélus (Bordeaux), and his very own father, Claude Riffault – it’s easy to see the Burgundian influence and the master of minerality in Stéphane’s wines.
When his father retired, Stéphane took over the winery and embarked upon a journey of viticultural transformation. Today, all 13.5 hectares are certified organic (ECOCERT, 2016) and biodynamic (BIODYVIN, 2021). The entire harvest is carried out by hand and an extensive sorting takes place before the grapes are crushed –– a testament to his craftsmanship and an unwavering commitment to sustainability.
Claude Riffault Les Chasseignes Sancerre 2020
93 points - Robert Parker
From gravelly limestone soils and made with fruit from nearly a dozen east- and southeast-facing parcels at 275 meters in altitude, the 2020 Sancerre Les Chasseignes opens with an initially greenish, refreshing bouquet. It offers white fruit and coolish stones aromas on the elegant and moderately intense nose but gains in complexity if aerated for some days in the open bottle. Round and elegant on the palate, this full-bodied and refreshing Sancerre reveals a finely intense and concentrated texture with ripe, fleshy yellow plum notes and delicate grip from ripe tannins and aging sur lie, but it finishes with the purity and mineral freshness of an excellent Sancerre. The finish is long, dense and savory. Les Chasseignes seems to be richer and rounder than Les Denisottes and Les Chailloux yet initially lacks the tension and structure of those, which makes the alcohol more palatable. However, this is still an excellent wine. And, tasted again after 11 (!) days from the same bottle, it's even a great Sancerre. 14% stated alcohol. Natural cork. Tasted in January 2022.
Stéphane Riffault has presented another great vintage after the superb 2019s, which I still tend to prefer. But on the other hand, 2020 is still a very young vintage that developed so enormously well over days in the bottle that I won't argue against what Stéphane says: "2019 shows very well today, even better than 2020, I agree, but in few years I assume the 2020s will be the more interesting wines." The biggest difference between 2020 and 2019 is the level of tartaric acid in the grapes at harvest. "The 2020s are a bit higher in alcohol but lower in pH compared to 2019, and their sustainability on the palate makes me very happy. Since the 2020 alcoholic fermentations went through more dynamic, we find these tropical fruit aromas on the nose at the moment, especially in wines from limestone kimmerdigian soils, but with bottle aging the terroir will shine through much more prominently."
Next to Stéphane's two impressive monoparcelle cuvées, which are vinified in 20-hectoliter foudres for 18 months, the Echalas was aged in three-year-old 350-liter François Frères oak barrels. It will be released as Vin de France since a part of the vineyards were declassified by the INAO and cannot be marketed under the Sancerre AOP. "After 40 years of planting vines here, this was a big disappointment for us," reports Stéphane. However, he has made a fabulous Sancerre-like wine here in 2020 that would have surely become one of the appellation's finest of the 2020 vintage if not of younger history.
Claude Riffault La Noue Sancerre Pinot Noir 2018
93 points - John Szabo, Wine Align
Stéphane Riffault's 13.5 ha estate includes 3ha planted to pinot noir, of which La Noue represents 2.5 hectares across seven adjoining parcels with vines ranging from 8 to 56 years old, planted on both marls and Kimmeridgian limestones. Vineyard care is rigorous in the extreme (also certified organic), and the effort shows through in the final product, made in minimalist fashion. The 2018 is very much on the riper and fleshier end of the Sancerre Rouge spectrum, brimming with succulent red and black cherry (griottes), yet cool and classy, nicely composed, with fully integrated wood nuances. The palate is all class, vibrant yet fleshy, fresh yet generous, with a fine twang of limestone salinity and a tannin-acid complex that yields fine silk, more spun than woven. The wine gains succulence and energy with aeration, so be sure to serve in large-bowled pinot glasses or gently decant before serving, with a light chill for best effect. It should also hold comfortably in the cellar for another 3-5 years. Tasted May 2021.
90+ points - Robert Parker
From 30- to 58-year-old vines on terres blanches and marl soils, Stéphane Riffault's 2018 Sancerre La Noue was cold-macerated and fermented with whole clusters for a total of four weeks. It offers an aromatic, fruity, elegant and charming bouquet of red cherries, raspberries and redcurrant intertwined with stony notes. Concentrated, round and mellow on he palate, this is an elegant, already accessible and maybe too charming (?) Pinot with ripe black berry and licorice aromas on the aftertaste. It was aged for a total of 16 months in 228- to 600-liter oak casks prior the bottling in February. Tasted right after the bottling in February 2021.
I didn't taste wines from Stéphane Riffault for a long while, although I had them in very best memories. The 2016s and 2017s I tasted recently (far too late for potential buyers yet early enough for collectors who cellar them) are exciting. The 2017 Rosé is vinous and elegant, and among the whites, the clear, precise and linear 2016 Les Desmalets and the complex, structured 2016 Les Chailloux are outstanding. Shortly before the deadline for this report, I received the younger vintages—2018 and the fascinatingly vibrant and energetic 2019. These younger vintages include several new highlights, namely the single-parcel wines 468 and 538, which, tasted as barrel samples, are among the finest and most expressive Sancerres I have tasted in many years. The 2019 Les Chailloux is another highlight once again, as is the 2020 Rosé, which is more "a masquerade of a red wine," as Riffault's US importer, Jon-David Headrick, expresses it perfectly. All in all, the Domaine Claude Riffault has become one of my personal favorites of the AOP, and Stéphane's style seems to be moving toward more textured wines, a result of the trend to use more oak. Stéphane's brother is winemaker at the Domaine Étienne Sauzet in Puligny-Montrachet, and they might have an intense exchange about viticultural and winemaking techniques. I remember having tasted many wines grown predominantly or entirely in stainless steel years ago, and I also remember the transition to concrete vats and small barrels; these remain, but larger wooden casks are also in use today. For example, the generic white Sancerre is aged in both 500- and 600-liter wood containers; the Sancerres Les Boucauds is aged in a combination of pièces bourguignonnes (228 liters), 350-, 400- and 500-liter wood containers as well as 600-liter demi-muids. Les Chasseignes ages in both 350-liter barrels and a 20-hectolitre foudre that, in turn, is the cask for the fantastic Sancerres Les Denisottes and Les Chailloux. The Monoparcelles 469 and 538 are vinified in 350-liter barrels before the élevage of eight months takes place in a 20-hectoliter foudre and for another month in stainless steel tanks before bottling. The red Sancerre La Noue is aged in a combination of 228-, 250- and 600-liter oak vats, whereas the Sancerre Rosé is entirely aged in a single 228-liter pièce bourguignonne.
With his rosé, Stéphane Riffault is looking to break the stereotype image of rosé and to produce a great, gastronomic vin de rosé, which he describes as "serious" and makes it "like a clear red." He accepts a loss of freshness in favor of complexity by aging it like a red Pinot Noir. In the end, this makes sense and adds another serious and vinous wine to a remarkable series of ambitious, terroir-driven Sancerres that are far more than just fresh and easy. I even had the impression the rosé is potent enough to be aged even longer on its lees, and Stéphane admits that he’s still unsure about this and that there is a possibility that he might age it longer than expected, but he’s afraid that what he would gain by aging it longer would be offset with an even further decrease in freshness. He added that bottling in March will give him a "happy medium," but this is yet to be seen.
In an email conversation with Jon-David Headrick, who detected the Domaine Claude Riffault many years ago, he told me that Stéphane is not actively trying to make "wines that are counter to his appellation." Instead, "he’s trying to push the boundaries as to what can be made in the appellation. For so long, Sancerre has been known as an appellation that produced simple, fresh wines, and he wants it to be known as one of the great terroirs of France, having the ability to produce 'great white wines of stature and complexity.'" As such, Stéphane has been systematically tasting and speaking with great growers in Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace and Loire regions like Savennières to help him refine his style. "His primary references are in Burgundy where he has taken a lot of cues," reports Headrick. However, he is quick to point out that "Stéphane is not trying to make a Burgundy wine in Sancerre and dislikes this terminology. He is, however, taking the best of the ideas that great domaines in Burgundy have to teach him and adapting those to Sauvignon Blanc, his appellation and his parcels. "
One of the ways Riffault thinks he can produce great, gastronomic whites is to concentrate on extended lees aging. In fact, the "sur-lie" aging is much longer than it was before since "he believes that aging on the lees, and more lees, in wooden containers is one of the ways to achieve this."
One could fear the power, richness and density of the 2019 vintage could have made the new wines from Stéphane Riffault too big, but in fact, he has mastered the challenge incredibly well and kept as much freshness as possible in his full-bodied, structured and sustainable wines while practicing this extended aging. In any case, you should use a big Burgundy glass for all of his wines, particularly for the 2019s—and let them breath enough air. I have the series over a week, and even after seven days, they deeply impressed me.