After a relatively prolific vintage in 2017 - which bucked the national trend - volumes were down in Crozes-Hermitage in 2018 but the Graillot family were pleased with the quality of the fruit that they harvested and the early indications are for voluptuous, fruit-accentuated, readily approachable wines. This adds to an excellent vintage run that extends back to 2008; a year of too much rain and too little sun that no-one recalls with enthusiasm.
Alain Graillot has been at the forefront of the renaissance of white Crozes-Hermitage: favouring a traditional 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne blend, blocking malolactic fermentation for freshness and raising the wine in vat and barrel for balance. The finished wine is bottled under screwcap and drinks well from release with ripe apricot and peach scents and flavours and an elegant dry finish.
The principal wine here in volume terms is the 'Domaine Alain Graillot' Crozes-Hermitage rouge; a pure Syrah that has engendered a hugely loyal following since the inaugural 1985 vintage. It is made from hand-harvested whole bunch fruit mostly barrel-aged on its fine lees for 18 months, although around 20% of the wine is kept in vat to give a juicy un-oaked aspect to the final blend. Typically exhibiting a deep purple robe, dark hedgerow berry aromas and a palate of peppery autumnal fruit offset by a fresh acidity, it is a versatile food wine, as testified by the fact that half the sales are direct to restaurants in France.
In favourable vintages, a prestige patron's cuvée, called 'La Guiraude' is produced by careful barrel selection. It has much the same sleek black fruit appeal as the main wine but is denser and more structured with greater ageing potential.
Alain's son Maxime and his business partner Thomas Schmittel also produce some excellent Crozes-Hermitage from their neighbouring 'Domaine des Lises' vine holdings. 'Equinoxe' is a pure Syrah, bottled under screwcap under their 'Equis' négociant label. Brimming with ripe cassis and mulberry flavours it is intended for hedonistic off-the-bat drinking and is ideal when served lightly chilled with a barbecue. The senior 'Domaine des Lises' wine has a similar vinification to the classic Crozes' but the fruit is fully de-stemmed giving less tannic grip and a softer sensuous palate.
The interloper here is Yves Chéron's popular 'Pascal Frères' bottling of red Crozes' that has a bouquet of dark hedgerow fruit and a smooth, mid-weight palate of blackberries and Morello cherries with peppery notes over abackground of fine-grained tannins.
Making a welcome debut is the Chave family's 'J-L Chave Sélection' négociant bottling of red Crozes-Hermitage, alled 'Silène', that is made from a base of mature Syrah rootstock at Larnage. With a deep plum hue, loganberry scents and a palate of sleek black fruit and supple tannins, it is already drinking well and makes a fine foil for small game and mushroom dishes.