Maxime Graillot

A Northern Rhône Lover’s Delight: The Latest from Domaine des Lises & Equis
Maxime Graillot
These are exciting times chez Graillot. On our last two visits we have been totally wowed by what we’ve tasted, and this applies to the Domaine Alain Graillot, Domaine des Lises and Equis wines. All are hitting new heights. In short, Maxime Graillot is in white hot form. 

As for Domaine des Lises, we introduced the outstanding new white Crozes last year, and upcoming vintages look equally exciting. In addition to his vineyard in Mercurol (see below), Maxime now has some vines on the top of Hermitage, taking this already fine, mouth-watering white to yet another level. Then, the Equis wines from the micro-négoce Max runs with his great mate, Thomas Schmittel, are just super. From one of the most balanced harvests in recent years, the Equinoxe Crozes-Hermitage is all fleshy, lip-smacking fruit with great balance. And we’ve finally managed to prise away a few cases of the Saint-Joseph, made from the granite-laced hillsides of Saint-Jean-de-Muzols. This is, perhaps, Maxime’s most traditionally styled wine: a complex, layered, structured Syrah with a distinctly mineral core.

In all the years we have been visiting this address, we haven’t tasted a more impressive collection of wines across all three labels at the same time. Following some very tough years in the vineyards and at home with the loss of both his parents, Maxime seems to have found both an inner peace and system of practice, (including earlier harvesting and longer aging), that is producing his finest wines to date.

The Wines

Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2021
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Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2021

The Les Pends lieu-dit is one of the very finest for white in Crozes-Hermitage. Maxime Graillot had been waiting and waiting to get a parcel and finally succeeded in 2014. It’s a sloping, south-facing hillside on white clay and chalk described by Rhône authority John Livingstone-Learmonth as a “high, high-quality terroir”. The site’s appeal lies in its ability to ripen its fruit while retaining a mouth-watering structure courtesy of the limestone-rich soils. Simply, Les Pends is one of the most coveted terroirs in the region for white grapes, and Maxime’s wine—full of alluring floral fruit and stony intensity—explains why. 

Graillot owns just 0.4 hectares of 40-year-old vines densely planted to 75% Marsanne and 25% Roussanne. The grapes are whole bunch-pressed, spontaneously fermented and raised in 600-litre demi-muid and a 300-litre cigar. Unlike the Domaine Alain Graillot white—grown on the deep alluvial soils of Pont-de-l’Isère—Graillot does not block the malolactic conversion; the limestone soils provide enough freshness and tension. The 2021 is a seriously classy white Crozes—fleshy yet racy, floral and honeyed and with a long juicy close. A fabulous white Rhône.

A seriously classy white Crozes of floral elegance, the aromas woven through with yellow fruits, white flowers, white honey and wet pebble minerality. The palate is compact, vibrant and fleshy, with sculpted intensity aligned to the silk-lined texture. Building complexity in the glass, the finish is long and finessed, with hints of chamomile and fennel. It’s a fabulous white Rhône that calls for an equally fabulous piece of fish.

Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2021
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Equis Equinoxe Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2022
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Equis Equinoxe Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2022

Maxime Graillot and Thomas Schmittel’s nouveau-style Crozes is sourced primarily from a mature, gravelly, organically farmed site in Pont-de-l’Isère. This site is owned and managed by a good friend and neighbour of the Graillot clan, and the vigneron and producer work closely together. It is this collaboration that has seen the Equinoxe cuvée reach ever-greater heights. Roughly 80% destemmed, the wine is fermented in concrete tanks and large wooden tronconique vats (with a degree of carbonic maceration) and aged for nine months in the same vessel. This is gorgeously fleshy, forward, drink-it-straight-from-the-bottle kind of Crozes, with a touch more density than in 2021, but just as delicious. 

“The nose has an air of crushed nutshells from its oak, green olives, blackberry fruits, a hint of blood-iron. The palate is juicy and unrestrained, gives an immediate surge and sensation of plentiful black fruits, mild tannins in the wheel. Its length is steady, pretty resolute, and the finish well rounded. Its open features will please. From mid-2024.”
John Livingstone Learmonth, Drink Rhône
Equis Equinoxe Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2022
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Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2021
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Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2021

As always, Maxime’s estate Crozes comes from vineyards near the village of Beaumont-Monteux, only a few kilometres from the Domaine Alain Graillot vines. The lieux-dits are called Les Bosquets and Les Pichères. Here, in the most south-easterly part of the appellation, the fast-draining soils are made up mostly of alluvial stones and gravel. They are low in clay and, in fact, very similar to the Domaine Alain Graillot soils in Les Chênes Verts, just to the north. Planted throughout the 1980s, the vines are now managed organically (certification is due soon). 

The fermentations are entirely natural, and Graillot Jr. uses only a small whole-bunch component, usually in the realm of 20-30%. It is, therefore, a wine that tends to ‘come around’ earlier than the 100% whole-bunch wines that carry the Alain Graillot name. The 2021 was fermented in concrete vats and then racked into one-, two- and three-year-old Burgundy barrels—purchased from some of the top estates—and a 12-hectolitre Stockinger cask. There is also a tiny component (less than 10%) of new barrels purchased from the Atelier Centre France, whose bespoke steam-bent barrels are now used at Guiberteau, Didier Dagueneau and François Chidaine. The wine spent 11 months in barrel and was brought together for three months in large fût tronconique. It is bottled unfiltered.

A brilliant wine! Although it was a tricky year—frost, hail and lots of pressure—the 2021 is a fabulous release for this wine. It’s sappy and mineral with a delicious core of blackberry, dark cherry and iodine scented fruit and a twist of herbal/smoky complexity. Graillot is now aging this wine for six months longer to allow for finer integration between the wine’s fruit and tannin, and it has really worked here. Those who love classic Northern Rhône Syrah will be thrilled.  

Domaine des Lises Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2021
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Equis Saint-Joseph Rouge 2020
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Equis Saint-Joseph Rouge 2020

This is drawn from two parcels on the steep, granitic slopes of Saint-Jean-de-Muzols, the historic heart of Saint-Joseph that lies opposite the hill of Hermitage. Three-quarters of the blend comes from 1980s planted Syrah, while the remainder of the vines were planted in the 1950s. Both parcels are organically farmed without herbicides by the Desbos family, and both lie on steep gradients that necessitate work by hand and horse only.  

In the cellar, the winemakers work with around 20 to 30% whole bunches, and the wine matures for one year in used ex-Burgundy 228-litre oak casks for 11 months, followed by six months in tronconique. Bottled unfiltered, it’s a layered, deep, rocky style of St-Jo, with taut red and blue fruits complemented by crushed stone, dried dark flowers and iron filing nuances.          

“The bouquet has an oily intensity, is well together, centres on smoky blue fruit, delves in and carries mystery for now. The palate links closely, via an immediate run of shapely black fruited content, a little local rockiness well etched into it, with a flourish of fruit on the finish. It’s a vivid and genuine St Jo, plenty of bounce and character, rocks really well. It’s moving into shape – from late-2024.”
John Livingstone Learmonth, Drink Rhône
Equis Saint-Joseph Rouge 2020
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