There was a time when things almost got out of control. Became comical. People were queuing for their annual ration of Monsieur Alain Graillot’s Crozes-Hermitage upon release in Sweden. Of course the established and static wine writing in the country had a major role in this – limited by what the retail monopoly offered. A majority of them thought the world of the wine, praised it to the extent as if it was a top Hermitage and of course their inevitable bargain labeling heated up the excitement among the consumers, who uncritically took position in the line.
People stood there in queues outside the state monopoly shops around the country, wondering how many bottles they would get this time. If any. 6? 12? Today the lining up for a Crozes-Hermitage release from Graillot is less intense. The wines of Alain are still impressive but today there are simply more options for the Swedish wine consumer to buy the wines.
I think highly of Alain’s wines. They represent the potential there is in the, for northern Rhône measures, huge Crozes-Hermitage appellation. It shouldn’t be compared to other appellations with more favorable prerequisites, not even with Saint-Joseph on the west side of the river.
Lots of uninteresting stuff are emerging from Crozes-Hermitage. Not bad. Just boring. But Monsieur Graillot has led the way, shown others what can be done and his importance for the AOC can’t be stressed enough. His partial use of stems in the vinification, whole clusters, organic vineyard thinking and used Bourgogne barriques from the finest producers, adds depth to his wines, enhances the sense of place. Of course he’s skilled as hell but why can’t more producers be like Alain in Crozes-Hermitage?
I’m finally meeting Alain Graillot a cold day in March in Tain l’Hermitage and it’s a true pleasure listening to the most humble man who joined the wine industry almost 30 years ago, without any experience from it. We’re talking about his popularity in Sweden, what effect his wines obviously has had on Swedish consumers and he bursts out in a big laugh. We’re talking about why it’s so tough to promote and sell the white wines of the northern Rhône. We’re talking about closures. We’re talking about the 2011 vintage.
Alain produces a white Crozes-Hermitage which mainly consists of Marsanne and is complemented by a fifth of Rousanne. It’s obvious his proud of the wine which is easy to like but not without character. Equal parts kept in tank and used oak. Little intervention meaning low sulfur treatment, no pesticides or fertilizers.
The choice of screw cap for the white is applaudable in conservative France, but doesn’t signal early drinking. No, the 2011 Crozes-Hermitage Blanc surely can evolve for a few years! It’s more a way to secure that delicate apricot, peach and mineral driven nose, the lime zesty and herbal scents, the refreshing palate and the quite long and elegant finale. 2011 seems to have offered excellent conditions for the white wines of the northern appellations and I actually value Alain’s white higher than his red in the vintage. Give it up to four or five years if you cellar.
Alain believes the small amounts of white wines being produced in the northern parts of the Rhône Valley means it’s a bit of an insider’s secret; how good they can be. The scarcity of course matters when it comes to the lacking promotion of the wines. But there’s also the heavy, almost painfully concentrated styles of white Hermitage with low acidity that hardly attracts a more general audience. Me neither to be honest.
The red 2011 Crozes-Hermitage is drinking beautifully at the moment. Herbaceous, red berries, black pepper, violets and just a dash of something green. Oozing of wet humus. On the palate it’s delicate, never too much and has that 2011 feeling of pure, cool fruit. Again something slightly green which probably relates to the stems in the vinification.
The first impression is that the 2011 will not evolve for more than half a decade or so, but then again, this is Alain Graillot. By now we know his wines evolves for much longer than that! It doesn’t possess the concentration as in 2010 but when I think about it; the acidity structure reminds me a lot of previous young vintages I’ve tasted. And the fruit is there. Cool but there. Drink a few now this summer. Save the rest for up to 10 years.
Do you want to find the wines of Alain Graillot? Use the wine-searcher box in the top right corner of the page. And besides these two, try to find the premium release as well, Le Guiraude.