Perhaps the Greatest Name in Crozes-Hermitage

Today’s Story: Domaine Alain Graillot

Domaine Alain Graillot is a family owned and operated Northern Rhône wine estate established by Alain in 1985. Though he cut his teeth working in Burgundy and received advice from Jacques Seysses at Domaine Dujac, Alain returned to his home in Crozes-Hermitage to fulfill the dream of making his own wines. In the short few decades since, Alain’s wines rose to legendary status and are widely considered the greatest coming out of Crozes-Hermitage. The wines sell each year on an allocation basis, with about 50% leaving France and 50% remaining in France with large amounts going to the country’s best restaurants. Though Alain retired in 2008, he is still highly involved at the domaine where his sons Maxime and Antoine now hold the helm.

Though Alain rented vineyards to produce his wines in 1985, by 1988 he began acquiring them and the domaine today consists of about 22 hectares of organically farmed vines. The vineyards are planted mostly to Syrah (Alain’s passion variety), though they do contain about 3 hectares planted to white varieties of Marsanne and Roussanne. In addition to the holdings in Crozes-Hermitage, Alain Graillot owns small parcels of Syrah in Saint-Joseph and a very tiny parcel in Hermitage. Graillot’s vines are incredibly low-yielding thanks to severe pruning, and all fruit is harvested by hand.

In the cellar, Alain and now his son Maxime follow traditional vinification methods and utilize whole cluster fermentation with the red wines (except for the Saint-Joseph which uses destemmed fruit). White wines ferment 50% in one year old oak barrels purchased from top Burgundy estates and 50% in stainless steel tanks. After being blended at the end of winter, the white wines age before bottling in the spring. The reds, on the other hand, ferment in concrete vats and age for one year with about 80% going to one to three year old used Burgundy barrels and the remaining 20% going to vat. Before bottling, the reds are lightly filtered but unfined. Total production is around 10,000 cases annually.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Crozes-Hermitage

100% Syrah; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Crozes-Hermitage is opaque deep purple in color, which leaves fairly heavy staining on the glass. After spending 2-3 hours in the decanter, this opens up with aromas of plum, blackberry, blueberry, black licorice, violets, black olive, wet rocky earth, underbrush, smoke, and a hint of oak. The palate, meanwhile, is opulent and decidedly sexy with notes of blackberry, cassis, black plum, tobacco, black tea leaf, scorched earth, crushed rock minerality, black pepper, and mild oak-driven spice. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine-grained but high tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Give this another 3-5 years and it’ll be singing.

Price: $35. I think this is somewhere between fairly-priced and a great value. I know this is young but it has great finesse to it already that I think will improve with bottle age. It also exhibits a great sense of place that would be a great addition into any Syrah lover’s lineup, particularly if they’re not familiar with Crozes-Hermitage.

Excellent Value From One of the Rhône Valley’s Most Famous Domaines

Today’s Story: Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aîné

Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aîné is one of the most historic wineries in all of the Rhône Valley, established in 1834 by Antoine Jaboulet in Tain l’Hermitage. Though nowadays we know Tain l’Hermitage (particularly Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage) very well, it was a quiet winegrowing region when Antoine started assembling vineyards there. One of his greatest vineyards, and arguably one of the most famous in the world of wine, La Chapelle in Hermitage has been with the domaine since its origin and created a leaping point for the generational expansion throughout Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas, Gigondas, Côtes Rotie, Condrieu, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape amongst other appellations. When Antoine passed away, his vineyards went to sons Henri and Paul (the latter the source of the domaine’s name) and passed from generation to generation for nearly two centuries. In the latter half of the 1900s, Gerard Jaboulet promoted Rhône Valley wines throughout the world in an effort to expand their reputation even more. When Gerard passed away in 1997, however, Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aîné passed to his sons Philippe and Jacques until, in 2006, Jean-Jacques Frey purchased the domaine. Jean-Jacques’ daughter Caroline is today’s winemaker and viticulturist at the domaine, and her striving for excellence in every facet of the role is bringing this historic estate to new heights. Caroline achieved sustainable farming status in 2006, and has since started moving toward organic and biodynamic viticulture as well.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert

100% Syrah; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert is opaque deep purple in color. I decanted this for 4 hours, with the wine blossoming to showcase a nose of black plum, blackberry, cassis, violet, worn leather, hint of nail polish remover, wet rock, light smoke, and mocha. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of blackcurrant, black plum, black cherry, licorice, mild tobacco, granite, savory green herbs, chalky mineral, and blood. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $30. Today’s wine is another outstanding value (I do try to find them as often as possible). This drinks with depth and opulence but remains beautifully elegant and with a structure to go for at least another decade. Pair with smoked duck breast, high-quality ribeye, or grilled sea bass.