|Always in a class of its own|
Alain Graillot, Crozes-Hermitage, 2017
The onset of my personal wine bug in mid 2002 coincided with two events that had fed my habit for years: an article on Rhone wines in a local wine magazine and a Rhone tasting at Wine Route, which happened to be the first tasting of imported wines I had ever attended. The article contained a tasting note of the Graillot, Crozes-Hermitage, 2000, which was one of the wines we drank at the tasting. Basically, Graillot was there at the start for me.
What I remember most about the Northern Rhones from the tasting, which included, besides the Graillot, an Yves Cuilleron Saint Joseph, was the sensuality of the fruit and its silky texture. Of course, I had no context at the time for comparing the wines to other producers and other appellations. I knew from that article that Crozes was a lesser terroir, but I had no idea how much less so.
Wine Route had been Graillot's importer for years, but the selection was always haphazard. After the 2000, they skipped the excellent 2001 and brought in the 2002, a much maligned vintage. With various discounts and a surprisingly high score from a local critic, they managed to sell off their stocks. The next vintages were 2006, 2007 and 2011. And things stopped there, until Daniel Lifshitz and Bourgogne Crown has brought in the latest available vintages, 2017 (the red Crozes) and 2018 (the white).
Graillot is a benchmark for Syrah's capacity for sensuality and sheer beauty. No Crozes I have drunk over the last 18 years was ever quite as good as Graillot's, including the ones made by his son Maxime at Domaine des Lises - well made, but a softer style, less sexy, less impressive. Maxime and his brother Antoine have been in charge since 2008, although Alain still works alongside them. There has been no drop in quality or a stylistic shift, judging by the 2011 Crozes and Saint-Joseph.
The 2017 marches on to the house style: a plush, yet firm style, sensual and almost Bourgogne-like in texture. Cote-Rotie would also be an apt reference. The fruit is ripe without losing form and structured. The 2017 is still so young as to be somewhat one-dimensional, but it hints at depth and potential. The nose is full of tell-tale black pepper and violets, the fruit supported in mid-palate by acidity until the tannins assert towards the end. It's sappy in a youthful way and already a joy. If you're anything like me, you'll succumb to a curiosity too great to battle, but this'll be even better in 5-7 years (I've had a 14 year old Graillot Crozes that was still vigorous with no sign of slowing down). (Sept. 11, 2020)