Old World Syrah from the Northern Rhône: 2016 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage (#Winophiles)

After a few weeks of social distancing, a virtual excursion to the Rhône Valley of France was impossible to resist. Apparently quite a few of my wine-loving friends agree! Thanks to Rupal, who blogs and inhabits social media as the Syrah Queen, we’ll be chatting this Saturday about the wines of the Northern Rhône. As it happens, the reds are based on the Syrah grape which may well have prompted Rupal to choose this topic!

Check out Rupal’s invitation post here.

Do you love the structured red wines of Hermitage, Cornas, and Saint Joseph? The hedonistic Viogniers from Condrieu? Maybe you’re curious about how grapes are grown on the precipitous slopes rising from the Rhône River. If so, please join us on Twitter April 18th at 11 am ET for a taste of all of the above – plus travel stories, recipes, and our favorite producers. We love newcomers so jump into the conversation if you’re interested. Just be sure to add #Winophiles to your tweets so we can “see” you.

For a preview of what each Winophile will contribute to this month’s event, please scroll to the bottom of this post.

Once Upon a Time, When We Could Still Go Out for Dinner . . .

Yeah, I barely remember such a time either. That said, I do recall an evening just before Christmas when Gabe and I ventured out for a late dinner. We had stopped in at a friend’s holiday party in NYC and realized we were across the street from Nice Matin, a delightful place to grab a bite to eat. They also have an extensive wine program and a highly knowledgeable staff. Expect 20+ wines offered by the glass.

Nice Matin
A quiet Nice Matin, decked out for the holidays.

It’s usually packed, so we were pleased to be seated right away. I lingered over the wine list while Gabe pored over the daily specials on the menu. We chose our dishes and I was hemming and hawing over several bottles when the sommelier approached our table.

Don’t you just love when that happens? You’re trying to choose the right wine at a restaurant with so many options. A few stand out. And then a friendly wine lover who knows the list way better than you do, offers to help. (Always accept that help, my friends. In this case I learned about a producer who changed the way I think about Crozes-Hermitage.)

northern-rhone-wine-folly-map
Map: Wine Folly

About Crozes-Hermitage

At nearly 4,000 acres of plantings, this is the largest of the appellations in the Northern Rhône. And, in my opinion, most of the wine made here is . . . meh. I’ve just had too many bottles that disappointed; wines that lacked concentration or failed to bring out any of the things I love about the Syrah grape. They don’t fall into the bargain category either, which further dims their appeal.

As you might imagine, of the wines I was considering for our dinner, Crozes-Hermitage was not among them. Our sommelier, on the other hand, suggested two – both from the same producer.

This is why you should always stay open to new possibilities. And take advantage of the expertise of an excellent sommelier.

About Alain Graillot

After working as a marketing manager for a large French agricultural firm, Alain Graillot turned his focus to growing grapes and making wine. He bought 22 hectares of vineyard land in 1985, located on alluvial gravel soils between the Rhône and Isère Rivers in Crozes-Hermitage. He makes both red and white wine here, as well as a small amount of wine from his 1.5 hectares in nearby Saint Joseph.

alain-graillot Skurnick site
Alain Graillot (photo: Skurnick Wines)

Alain’s son Maxime followed in his footsteps, founding Domaine Equis in 2004, where he makes Crozes-Hermitage, Saint Joseph, and Cornas. Since 2008 he has also been the head winemaker at his father’s winery.

graillot-2-1038x576 Skurnick site
Maxime and Alain Graillot (photo: Skurnick Wines)

Farming is all organic, and the vineyards are tended manually. Whole clusters of syrah grapes are hand-harvested and undergo a five-day cool maceration before fermentation in concrete tanks using indigenous yeasts. Eighty percent of the wine ages in used Burgundy barrels, many of which come from Alain’s friends (including Jacques Seysses at Domaine Dujac) who make wine there.

Tasting Notes: 2016 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage

When the sommelier pointed to the two Graillot wines on his list, he must have anticipated my eyebrow raised in skepticism. He shook his head and said, “No, these wines are really good. If for some reason you don’t like it, I’ll keep it at the bar and sell it by the glass.”

Boy, am I happy I took his advice. Boy, is he probably disappointed that we loved it!

Graillot Front Label (2)
I call this the Holy Grail of Crozes-Hermitage. Pun intended.

Color: Deep purple (at least that’s how it looked in a dimly lit restaurant)

Nose: Blackberry, wet rocks, thyme, and some bacon fat.

Palate: Lots of tannin and acidity with moderate alcohol, each element exquisitely balanced. Just-ripe blackberry and plum; savory meaty notes, and a hint of licorice on the long finsih. The texture was tightly knit, opening over the course of our dinner. Very mineral quality across the palate.

To summarize, I absolutely loved this wine!

How to Get a Bottle of Your Own

Good luck with that. While 50% of Graillot’s production is exported, all wines are sold on allocation; your best bet is to find a local shop that’s on the list and grab all the bottles you can find. I searched for this wine in NYC the next day, finding just one retail outlet with inventory – at the same price as in the restaurant. Ugh.

Your other option is to make friends with the sommelier at a restaurant that sells it.

If you’re lucky enough to live near Nice Matin, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, you might be able to have a bottle delivered with your dinner. While I haven’t described the food, it is delicious, inspired by the casual plates served at an upscale brasserie in France. We savored braised octopus, seared lamb loin, and baklava. Super delish!

Take-Aways

If experience has turned you away from wines of a particular region, keep the door ajar; it only takes one wine to change your mind.

Always listen to the experts, especially when they’re knowledgeable and work in a restaurant with an excellent wine program.

Seize every chance to have a quiet dinner out with your favorite person. It might be a long time before you get to do it again.

Here’s What the Rest of the French Winophiles Have to Say . . .

 

23 comments

  1. I love Northern Rhone Syrah – besides Washington State, it might be my favorite region. 😉 Wonderful “Take Aways” too – and your restaurant photos are making me look forward to future days! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post brought back a lot of memories. I used to live near Nice Matin and have lots of great memories there! Also, the Graillot wines — form both Graillot and Equis — are both fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I forgot you used to live in both NYC and Miami. Of course you’d know Nice Matin, especially with its great wine program! I think most of us are relishing memories of special dinners we’ve attended, conversations with friends, unexpectedly good bottles of wine. Here’s hoping we can resume those activities soon. Stay safe out there!

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  3. Memories and second chances. It seems like a very appropriate theme these days. A quiet dinner at a little restaurant in NYC, with an unexpectedly good bottle of wine…that’s a visual to get me through to days when we can travel again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m keeping it front of mind, too, Robin. Whatever it takes to stay positive and sane, right? I’ve really enjoyed your recent IG posts, highlighting the meals you’re making and the stories behind the pairings. Cheers to more of them in the future!

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  4. What a lovely story. So many good restaurant memories and dreaming of future ones. I almost always ask the Sommelier for a suggestion once I choose my entrée. I figure they know their wine and food better than me and of course to try something new!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think we’re all anxious to get back to some semblance of normalcy – whatever that will look like. In the meantime, gathering with wine friends for our monthly chats keeps us all going, I think. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Hope you and your family stay safe and sound!

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