Alex Dale, founder of Radford Dale, and Matt Manning, owner of Culture Wine Bar and Grub & Vine, recently hosted a remarkable tasting and tribute dinner in honour of Alain Graillot, celebrating the life of the much-revered Northern Rhône winemaker who passed away in March this year.
Graillot, a chemical engineer who was bitten by the winemaking bug in his middle years, arrived in Crozes-Hermitage, Northern Rhône in the mid-1980s. Mentored by his friends who are some of Burgundy’s most prolific winemakers, he went on to become one of the region’s leading producers, elevating Northern Rhône’s reputation across the globe.
Dale, who was a long-standing friend of Graillot’s, explains that when he lived in Beaune, Burgundy in his early years, it was rare to find a non-Burgundian label on the wine lists at the local bars and bistros.
“The one exception was the Crozes-Hermitage from this chap named Alain Graillot, which was on all the good lists in Beaune, and was such incredible value. I later started importing wine into South Africa and I set out to meet Alain, as I wanted to add his wine to Radford Dale’s international portfolio. We immediately connected and Alain became a mentor to me, in terms of his ethos, exemplary humility and dedication to the values of simplicity, decency, authenticity — and, of course, unadulterated wine.”
Dale says that Graillot was seen as a pioneer of the time. “Crozes was the ugly-duckling of the Northern Rhône, an appellation not taken particularly seriously. Graillot dedicated himself to making outstanding wines of a calibre many did not believe possible from the appellation.
“He employed whole bunches in his ferments, which went against the style that was popular in the region at the time. This had the result of accentuating the spiciness and peppering the wines with a hint of ‘stalkiness’, which became Graillot’s signature."
The tribute tasting and dinner were centred around the number 25; a figure significant to Dale in that it commemorates the quarter of a century period in which Radford Dale has imported Graillot’s wines into South Africa. The event was by-invitation and limited to 25 Graillot friends and followers, including esteemed local producers such as Eben Sadie, Adi Badenhorst and Sam O‘Keefe. Twenty-five Alain Graillot wines were made available to guests, including stand-out vintages such as the Crozes-Hermitage La Guiraude 2005 and the Crozes-Hermitage 1999.
With arguably the greatest line-up of Graillot’s wines to ever be experienced in one sitting, the tribute included vintages spanning from 1996 – 2019, from Dale’s personal cellar, which were offered to guests without charge in the spirit of Alain’s legendary generosity.
The tribute began with an aperitif in Culture Wine Bar, before guests were ushered to Culture’s private members' lounge, the Wine Library, which had been set-up into three areas for the event. The first section saw 13 vintages of Crozes-Hermitage from 2019 - 1999 lined up. “It was more a retrospective of Alain’s work than a formal tasting”, explains Dale.
“The second section included six vintages of St. Joseph 2009 - 2000, while the final section was dedicated to Graillot’s special cuvée Crozes-Hermitage La Guiraude, with six vintages from 2018 to 1999 for guests to experience.”
Following the tasting, guests were seated in Grub & Vine’s private dining room, the Green Room, to enjoy a five-course menu especially created by Chef Patron Matt Manning, which was designed to fit the crescendo of Graillot’s wines.
Says Dale of Manning, “Matt manages to balance his immense culinary talent with an appreciation of great wines; something which seems to be the factor that sets apart the best chefs of the world. He has an uncanny ability to bring out the best in a wine, with his elegant yet hearty dishes that compliment rather than dominate or distract — providing an experience that gives the food and wine equal billing.”
Both Culture Wine Bar and Grub & Vine are located at 103 Bree Street, the heart and unofficial culinary capital of the Mother City. Dale adds that he selected the venue with the unique and intimate spaces in mind, which would help create the ambience he sought and were suited to the evening’s journey.
“Culture Wine Bar’s standing as the centre of the South African wine industry in Cape Town is completely warranted. It carries the most innovative list of contemporary local producers as well as the most comprehensive collection of imported wines in the country today. It’s the sort of place in which Alain would have felt very at home — and indeed where his wines continue to reside.
“Nothing short of a remarkable send-off would do Alain justice,” adds Dale.
Concludes Manning, “It was a privilege to host this tribute tasting and dinner together with Radford Dale. The evening, designed by Alex Dale in his friend’s honour, embodied the love and respect for a great man and legendary winemaker.
“The extraordinary line-up of wines and intimate nature of the occasion is very much in harmony with what we set out to deliver to our patrons: creating beautiful experiences that allow people to celebrate life — over great food and exceptional wine, of course.”