Crozes-Hermitage has experienced some challenging weather conditions over recent growing seasons. The 2019 vintage was severely depleted by a summer hailstorm that destroyed large volumes of ripening fruit. In 2020, the dry growing season led to an early harvest of small grapes and in 2021, April frosts burnt out budding fruit and greatly reduced the size of the potential crop. Happily, the quality of the wines that were made is high and winemakers have adapted quickly to the vagaries of the climate.
The Graillot family's vine holdings are mostly located on the Chassis plateau where they have established a reputation for producing fruit-accentuated, accessible wines that offer terrific value for money. Their principal offering - in terms of the volume made - is their red Crozes-Hermitage 'Alain Graillot' that is made from whole-bunch Syrah that is vinified in vat and barrel for at least 18 months prior to blending and bottling. The finished wine is typically approachable on release and is redolent with autumnal black fruit with peppery undertones and supple tannins. It is a great gastronomic wine, well-suited to grilled red meats and wild mushroom dishes and it gains depth and complexity with 5 to 10 years bottle age. In favourable vintages, a 'patron's cuvée', called 'La Guiraude', is produced from a careful barrel selection. It is denser, darker and more long-lived than the regular wine and is highly sought after on secondary markets.
The family also make a very popular and forward-drinking white Crozes-Hermitage from a classic assemblage of 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne that is raised in vat and 600-litre demi-muid barrels and is bottled under screw-cap to conserve its youthful fruit. With attractive apricot and white peach scents and flavours plus an elegant, dry finish, it makes a fine accompaniment to white fish and poultry.
Alain's eldest son Maxime also has a side operation with his business partner Thomas Schmittel named Domaine des Lises which makes 'fruit forward' wines that don't demand cellaring prior to drinking. Their négociant bottling, called 'Equinoxe', is made from de-stemmed Syrah and is (unusually for red Crozes-Hermitage) also bottled with a screw-cap. With an appealing bouquet of juicy dark fruit, a core of blackcurrants and blackberries and fresh acidity, it shows the appellation in a very pure light. The estate bottling of Domaine des Lises is a little weightier and longer-lived but has much the same emphasis on ripe fruit, freshness and delicate tannins so can be enjoyed with or without food.
Making a welcome return to these pages (after a hiatus last year) is Jean-Louis Chave's négociant 'Silène' bottling of Crozes'. Made from 100% Syrah located to the north of the hill of Hermitage near Larnage, it has a deep plum hue, mulberry and loganberry fruit and characteristic peppery spice. Intended to be drunk in the first 5 years of its life, its supple tannins make it the ideal partner to a rose veal steak or miso-roasted girolles.