Alain Graillot is to Crozes Hermitage as the Peyraud's are to Bandol: Benchmark and definitive representations of their appellations. Alain's journey to starting his domaine in 1985 began, of all places, in Burgundy alongside Jacques Seysses at Domaine Dujac. And, as one might imagine with Alain's Syrahs, there will be stems.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage and 2016 Crozes Hermitage La Guiraude.
Additionally, featured below is a very special joint project between Antoine Graillot and Raul Perez, the 2017 Encinas Bierzo Tinto for just $30 per bottle.
Prior to founding his domaine in 1985, Alain's work with Jacques imparted two key traits. He wanted his wines to be both supremely fresh and spicy. Certainly elegance is part of this equation too, and as temperatures have warmed in the last 34 years, Graillot continues to be a beacon for Rhône enthusiasts passionate about terroir-driven wines that are steeped in an unwavering traditionalist approach.
Alain's two sons both produce Syrah under their own labels, but the eponymous domaine is still unwavering in their use of 100% whole clusters for fermentation and aging only in older wood - divided between barrique and foudre.
La Guirade is not a single vineyard, but rather a selection of the best barrels, as Alain tastes through these personally each vintage.
Crozes Hermitage has long been a great appellation for those looking for value when it comes to the best producers working in the most esteemed parcels. But, even as Graillot's wines nail the value element, they stand out from the pack, as he is undoubtedly the benchmark name in this zone of the Northern Rhône valley.
Of all the discoveries for the shop there's none that have captured my attention more than the Côte Rôtie of Chambeyron-Manin. The secret is out on this tiny jewel of a domaine. At under 165 cases produced annually the Chambeyron-Manin domaine is small-production on a wildly different scale. They farm just a 0.5 hectare of a rare clone of Syrah named Serine in the decomposed granite, iron rich soils of the Côte Brune.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2016 Chambeyron-Manin Côte Rôtie Côte Brune for $85 per bottle, and down to $80.95 on orders of 4 bottles or more.
While Côte Rôtie is the most seductive end of the Northern Rhone Valley, the Chambeyron's expression of Serine harnesses the dark and feral characteristics of the Côte Brune. With all the brawn and scorched earth elements of this combo it's the violet and lavender that still speaks to this slice of the most sensual Syrah on the globe.
I had thought visiting the Calmont vineyard in Mosel's Bremm would surely be the most jaw-dropping site of my wine travels, it being the world's steepest. But, when I descended into Ampuis, driving along the Rhone river and gazing up I realized this was a different animal. Immediately visualizing the hands-only work required on these towering terraces that stretched completely vertical from the river to the clouds brought on a sense of anxiety. Something like when Chief Brody saw that shark up close for the first time at the back of the boat.
The Chambeyron-Manin family historically, like many here, sell meats, cheeses, and vegetables. The minuscule plot of vines they have just behind their home only supplement their "main" work operating their Les Jardins de la Côte-Rôtiemarket. Tasting their wine for the first time it's hard to imagine they would devote their lives to anything except ramping up production and getting it into as many hands as possible. But, alas, half a hectare is what it is, and I'm just so fortunate to have been introduced.
The dark expression of Serine and the Côte Brune feature smoke, bacon fat, crushed rocks, dark plum, black pepper, and black olive notes with the vivid tell-tale florality that separate Côte Rôtie from its southern neighbors. I'm always on the hunt for more bottles from this domaine's current release, but finding wines with bottle age was a huge surprise.
Today's list is deep on the main appellations of the Northern Rhône Valley. If you're crazy for Syrah like me, you'll find something to hit every mark and every occasion. Supreme values like Xavier Gerard's Côte Rôtie is still gaining traction in the US as a new import. Hervé Souhaut and Jean-Michel Stephan approach Syrah like their mentor Marcel Lapierre did Gamay. And, old gems turned new with 1991 Gentaz-Dervieux Côte Rôtie and now 2016 Hommage à Gentaz-Dervieux from Rene Rostaing.
Today's offering from France, Italy, and Germany was inspired by some very special new back-vintage arrivals. Some wines are not posted online yet, so please reply to this email with any order requests. 2002 Champagne is highlighted today with value plays like Lanson's two late releases, and Jacquesson's Dégorgement Tardif and Bollinger's R.D.
Burgundy is lead with new arrivals of 1966 Mongeard-Mugneret Grands Echezeaux and 1969 Rousseau Clos de la Roche. Values here can be found with Moillard's 1983 Malconsorts and Daniel Rion's Beaux Monts. Germany features only two producers, Egon Müller and Klaus-Peter Keller. Rhône and Loire Valley are deep with Chave and Clos Rougeard. And finally, Italy features deep selections from the 60's and 70's, along with newer releases from Giacomo Conterno and brand new winery release of Emidio Pepe's 2010 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
Many visits along the wine route have left significant impressions on me. At the very top of the list is surely a July 2012 visit with Jean-Michel Stephan in Côte Rôtie. My friend and I had just finished taking in our first Bastille Day celebration in epic fashion at Lapierre's annual feast in Villié-Morgon. It's fitting that only days later we found ourselves atop the steep terraces of Côte Rôtie with a vigneron who remembers Marcel Lapierre as his greatest inspiration.
Today, I'm very happy to offer the truly singular Côte Rôties from Jean-Michel Stephan.
Jean-Michel takes an approach to vinification in Côte Rôtie that differs drastically from his neighbors. But, the most profound bottles hit the same mark as great traditionalists like Jamet, Benetière, and Levet. Stephan's philosophy, coming from his time in Villié-Morgon, mean that he employs full carbonic fermentation for his Syrah - a process customarily reserved for Gamay in Beaujolais.
As he explained to us, the whole clusters are placed into fermentation tanks free of sulphur additions, he pumps in some CO2, closes the hatch, and walks away. When he returns, the intracellular or "carbonic fermentation" is complete. On one hand this gives a fruitier note to Syrah, but the addition of stems counter that with spice, tannin, and freshness.
Stephan's Côte Rôtie "Classique" is comprised of 90% Syrah and 10% Viognier, sourced from various parcels throughout the appellation.
Côte Rôtie "So'Brune" is also comprised of 90% Syrah and 10% Viognier, but this comes from a high elevation parcel planted on mica schist. This very forward and plush in style. Dark and very soft-fruited in the warm 2017 vintage.
Stephan's Coteaux Bassenon is comprised of 60% Syrah, 30% Sérine, and 10% Viognier (oldest vines planted in 1896 and 1902). This parcel is on darker mica schist soils in the northern part of the appellation. This soil is more commonly found in the Côte Brune.
Stephan also stands out for his use of 100% Serine in his Coteaux du Tupin cuvée. This is remembered by vignerons as the ancient clone of Syrah. Differing with a move oval shaped berry, providing a darker take on the already wild Syrah variety, and doubling down on the violet aromatic notes. Old Serine vines here are planted on granitic gneiss with white mica schist, the same commonly found in the Côte Blonde.Finally,
En Coteaux Vieilles Vignes is produced only in select vintages and sources from the oldest Serine vines in Bassenon and is supplemented with 15% of old vine Viognier.
At first glance it may appear that Stephan's wines are Côte Rôtie through a Beaujolais prism. I don't see them like this at all. For me, they offer a mineral streak and wild aromatic range that is so very unique. However, each of the four cuvées do show an immediacy that is akin to Beaujolais. The dark and brambly fruit is unadulterated through the complete absence of sulphur additions. With a decant these young wines open up to reveal a side of Côte Rôtie that makes you feel like they are your first. They are exceptional, and they are singular.