Region: Crozes-Hermitage, Rhone Valley France
Syrah – Syrah is the perfect embodiment of the principle of ripeness in wine. Perhaps more than any other variety, Syrah’s entire character and presence changes based on both climate and brix. If grown in a hot climate and left on the vine to a high sugar level, Syrah becomes a behemoth of jam and alcohol, all up front and very little on the mid palate and finish, which is where many producers use oak to buoy the wine. Grown in a liminal climate, Syrah becomes all secondary: feral, smoke, and violets, coupled with the freshest blackberry fruit you’ll find in any wine. The unfortunate trend in the classic liminal climate of the Northern Rhone is towards greater ripeness. In my opinion, this is undermining the very essence of Syrah in that region. Luckily there are exceptions.
Crozes-Hermitage – Little talked about or appreciated and often associated with uninteresting quaffing wines. Alain is the antithesis of the popular image of Crozes. But he is also the antithesis of the bombshell Syrahs that have come to dominate the most famous appellations of the Northern Rhone, especially Hermitage. Alain’s goal is structure, aromatics and freshness. He keeps the fruity jam notes completely out of his wines, instead focusing on Syrah’s vegetal and mineral side. Don’t let that scare you away, however, as Alain’s wines have fruit to balance out the more challenging secondary notes so as to make them not really all that challenging. His wines really are like no other Syrah being made in the Northern Rhone, but I find a philosophical and soulful similarity with the Cornas wines of Auguste Clape.
The Wine Itself – floral, rocky, and stem aromatics, but this vintage is fully ripe. The palate has lots of blackberry and plum, and is also very fresh and high acid. The stem inclusion notes are clear, but add fantastic structure to the wine. Making wine like this is incredibly hard, especially at this price point. In my opinion this is one of the great vintages of Alain Graillot and will age for some time.