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.

Fruity Châteauneuf-du-Pape Perfect for the Holiday Season

Today’s Story: Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe is a family-owned and operated wine estate located in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC of France. Tracing back to 1891, Henri Brunier gifted several plots of land to his son Hippolyte which, at the time due to their high pebble content, were thought to be nearly useless for viticulture. Nonetheless, Hippolyte planted vines on the plateau of La Crau and began the winemaking endeavors of the Brunier family. When Hippolyte’s son Jules joined the family business, he extended the estate to 42 acres and gave it the name we know today of Vieux Télégraphe.

Following WWII, the estate was in desperate need of revival and fourth generation Henri quickly took up the baton. Henri grew the estate to 136 acres and then shifted focus toward creating a “signature style” for his wines and marketed them abroad. As the 1980s came around, control of the domaine fell to Henri’s sons Frédéric and Daniel who now farm 247 acres in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and an additional 49.5 acres of IGP Vaucluse and Ventoux AOC. They are not without extra family help, however, as sixth generation Nicolas and Edouard remain dedicated to the family business as well.

Vieux Télégraphe farms all of their vineyards adhering to sustainable practices, though in reality they practice organic viticulture. From the winter months with pruning, spreading organic manure and compost, and plowing to the spring and summer months with manual debudding and thinning, the team works tirelessly to guide healthy fruit. Come harvest, the fruit is picked by hand and sorted in the vineyards twice before a third sorting at the winery. The winemaking team doesn’t follow a particular process set in stone, outside of course making sure they adhere to AOC rules and guidelines on the process. Instead Vieux Télégraphe moves through the winemaking process led by the fruit, helping to tailor each wine to the vintage conditions, its structure, and terroir.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Piedlong Châteauneuf-du-Pape

90% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 Piedlong CdP is translucent medium garnet in color with ruby hues in the bowl of the glass. I decanted this for 2 hours, though it really started opening up around the 1 hour mark. The nose showcases bright red fruits of raspberry, strawberry, and bing cherry alongside red licorice, rose, dried gravel, slight smoke, and oak. There is some slight heat too, but it does start to blow off a bit and should integrate with bottle age. Moving onto the palate, I get more vibrant fruits of stewed strawberry, black raspberry, boysenberry, and blood orange with violet, dried green herbs, crushed rock, thyme, and mild spice. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a medium length finish. A very easy-drinking CdP that’s loaded with red fruits and berries, which would have been perfect for Thanksgiving.

Price: $60 (I found it for $50). This isn’t necessarily my style of CdP (I prefer the more terroir and mineral driven bottlings) but I can see this being widely enjoyed. I don’t really see this as good value, and though I don’t see it as too overpriced either I’d really like to see it around the $40 mark.

One of My Favorite CdP’s

Today’s Story: Domaine du Pégau

Domaine du Pégau is one of the great estates in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and though it became officially established in 1987 its roots and those of its proprietors extend significantly further back in time. Today the domaine is under guidance of Paul Féraud and his daughter Laurence, though the Féraud family can be traced as far back as 1670 in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Titles to the earliest Féraud vineyards reach 1733, though the family sold most of their production in bulk to top négociants (like Jaboulet-Aîné, David & Foillard, and Guigal) when Paul joined the family business. In 1964, however, this all changed when Paul decided to bottle about 420 cases under his own name when estate bottling really started to pick up. 1987 marked the year when Laurence joined her father and the duo changed their name and label from Domaine Féraud to Domaine du Pégau. Pégau spanned a somewhat small 17 acres of vines at this time, with still a significant amount of produce sold to négociants, but as Laurence took a larger and larger role they phased out selling fruit and the 1990 harvest was fully used for their own wines. Today the domaine consists of 21 hectares of vines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape with another 5 hectares in Côtes du Rhône, 20 hectares in Côtes du Rhône Villages, and 19 hectares classified Vin de France.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée

85% Grenache, 9% Syrah, 4% Mourvèdre, with the balance Counoise and other authorized varieties (best guess – no tech sheet); 14% ABV

The 2009 Cuvée Réservée is opaque deep garnet in color with medium ruby variation. I decanted this for 3 hours, which allowed some funk to blow off the nose. Once this opens up, aromas of blackcurrant, black raspberry, boysenberry, cigar box, graphite, forest floor, truffle, slate, clove, and underbrush leap from the glass. On the palate, I get notes of brambleberry, figs, black cherry, anise, red and purple florals, tobacco, charred earth, earthy mushroom, rocky mineral, coffee grounds, and game. The wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity, dusty medium (+) tannins, and a long finish with added notes of iron and smoke. This is drinking magnificently right now, given the time to open up.

Price: $100. I think this is very fairly priced, as Pégau with the 2009 vintage produced a wine of depth, elegance, and complexity that reaffirms them as an estate to beat in CdP. Pair with herb-grilled lamb, wild boar, or charcuterie.

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.

Rising Star in Cornas

Today’s Story: Domaine Vincent Paris

Domaine Vincent Paris was established in 1997 with 1 hectare of inherited vines in Cornas. Vincent studied enology for four years before working alongside his uncle, famed Cornas vigneron Robert Michel, and desiring autonomy with his own wines. Vincent set about planting vines in St. Joseph and Cornas, ultimately acquiring La Geynale in 2007 and farming a total of 8 hectares today. Vincent farms 1.5 hectares of Saint Joseph, 6 of Cornas, and 0.5 of Vin de Pays with meticulous attention and refuses to use insecticide or chemical fertilizers while limiting treatments. Vincent severely prunes his vines (to only 4 bunches per vine) which helps produce concentrated, high quality berries and cuts down on green harvests. In the cellar, Vincent destems his fruit to varying levels and ferments the wines naturally after cold maceration at relatively lower temperatures. The wines spend 3 months in vats and then a year in oak barrels that are never new but rather 2-8 years old in an effort to not mask terroir, before they are ultimately bottled with light fining but no filtration.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Granit 30

100% Syrah; 13% ABV

The 2017 Granit 30 is opaque medium to deep purple in color. I decanted this for four hours, which allowed the nose to blossom and showcase aromas of blackberry, black plum, overripe blueberry, bacon fat, violet, wet rocky/clay earth, charred herbs, rubber, and gravel. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of dusty blackberry, black cherry, cassis, anise, sweet tobacco, mild smoke, granite, black pepper, chocolate, and iron. There is even a funky note of root beer flavored Bottle Cap candy! This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $40 (might be able to find it a few bucks cheaper). This is a really nice value for Cornas, especially if you can snag it for around $35. While the Granit 30 is the more approachable and modern bottling, this drank significantly less people-pleasing than I was expecting (which is great). Pair with herb roasted lamb, venison steak, or braised beef ribs.

Highly Allocated Rhône Syrah

Today’s Story: Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet (Hervé Souhaut)

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet is a small wine estate established by Hervé Souhaut in 1993 in the Saint-Joseph AOC of northern Rhône. Souhaut farms roughly 5 hectares of vineyards with vines aged 50-100 years old and crafts his small batch wines in the cellars of his in-laws’ converted hunting lodge. In making his wine, Souhaut uses hand-harvested organic whole grape bunches and semi-carbonic maceration in an effort to achieve wines that are elegant with refined tannins and approachable in their youth. The wine ferments in wooden and concrete tanks using only natural yeasts before being aged on fine lees in used oak barrels for 8-12 months. Souhaut adds only a minimal amount of SO2 at bottling and his wines are unfiltered. With production totaling less than 4,000 cases annually and wines highly allocated, Souhaut produces Vin de Pays wines (largely Gamay, Roussanne, and Viognier) under the Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet name as well as the AOC wines under his own name.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Syrah

100% Syrah; 12.5% ABV

The 2017 Syrah is opaque medium to deep purple in color. I decanted this for 2 hours and drank it over the following 4 hours. The nose is complex and evolves over time to showcase aromas of blueberry, black plum, olive, violet, sweet tobacco, loamy earth, smoke, clove, chocolate, and light oak. On the palate, I get notes of tart blueberry, sweet and juicy plum, black cherry, purple and blue florals, black olive, scorched rocky earth, tobacco, grilled meat, and green herbs. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, elegant medium tannins, and a long finish filled with jammy black fruit.

Price: $39. Excellent value for this Rhône Syrah made in a more “natural” style. Though the domaine’s production is limited and the wines highly allocated, this is worth seeking out. Pair this with lamb, herb-roasted pork, or venison.