In March 2022, the Rhône valley lost one of its most inspirational figures when Alain Graillot died suddenly from a stroke aged 77. He came to winemaking relatively late in life (aged 40) in 1985 after a successful career representing a Parisian agricultural firm on international export markets. He started out renting a parcel of vines on the then unfashionable 'Les Chassis' plateau between Tain l'Hermitage and Pont de l'Isère and hoped his pragmatism and attention to detail would work in his favour. Happily, they did. After a few successful harvests, he managed to build up his own vineyard and made judicious investments in a winery housed in a former piggery. To his (and our) delight, both of his sons Maxime and Antoine followed his lead and are well positioned to continue his legacy.
Today, the domaine extends to just over 20 hectares of vines - 17 of which are planted with Syrah and the balance being Marsanne and Roussanne. The principal estate Syrah is made from whole-bunch fruit (with stems) and is vinified in stainless steel tanks and then raised in vat and barrel prior to fastidious blending and bottling. It drinks well on its youthful fruit and has consequently garnered a loyal following in restaurants (which account for a significant proportion of domestic sales). Redolent of black forest fruit with a dark purple colour, fresh acidity, peppery undertones and supple tannins, it can support 5 to 10+ years bottle age and pairs well with red meat and mushroom dishes. In favourable vintages, a denser, more concentrated patron's cuvée of red Crozes-Hermitage 'La Guiraude' is produced. It doesn't emanate from a distinct parcel of vines, rather is a blend from 'better' barrels so has much the same characteristics as the principal wine but it is more gastronomic and can be cellared for at least a decade or more. Not to be overlooked is the estate's excellent white wine which is made from a blend of 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne that are raised in vat and 600 litre demi-muids and is bottled under screwcap to conserve freshness. With uplifting apricot and white peach scents and flavours and nervy mineral notes, it is best enjoyed in its first 3 years and makes a fine partner to seafood and poultry.
Alain's eldest son Maxime also cultivates a neighbouring parcel of vines with his business partner Thomas Schmittel. Known as 'Domaine des Lises', its grapes are vinified chez Graillot but are bottled under their own labels. A forward-drinking bottling of red Crozes-Hermitage 'Equinoxe' was originally conceived to help cash-flow but enjoys a loyal following by people who appreciate value for money and its bright red fruit palate and spicy undertones. A senior bottling, called simply 'Domaine des Lises' has fuller fruit, a wealth of dark berry flavours, supple tannins and a fresh finish.
Not to be overlooked here is the excellent négociant 'J-L Chave Sélection' bottling of Crozes-Hermitage 'Silène'. With a limpid aubergine hue, dark cherry scents and core of briary fruit over fine-grained tannins, it is a versatile crowd-pleaser that can be enjoyed from release if decanted.