Yes we love our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but there IS another wine grape grown in Burgundy. And it needs love too. In a region where Chardonnay reigns supreme, it takes a great deal of dedication and passion to make Aligoté today.
Having been around since the 17th century, Aligoté was once considered the premier wine of Burgundy. And though it is related to Chardonnay, it now plays second fiddle to the its more famous relative.1 While generally associated with Burgundy, Aligoté is produced in other countries around the world. In 1937, it was granted its own AOC – Bourgogne Aligoté.
Aligoté wines are fresh, expressive, green (fruit and herbs) and mineral driven, with citrus and floral characteristics. Made to be drunk young, with a few being able to go 3-5 years, these wines come at fantastic price points as many can be had at less than $20. Talk about a great option for white Burgundy! Known as a traditional ingredient for the Kir cocktail which is a Burgundy specialty of white wine mixed with creme de cassis, Aligoté also deserves to stand alone. It is great as an aperitif and also plays well with Asian and Indian cuisine. It’s lighter profile means it can also partner with salads and steamed vegetables as well as with oysters and simply grilled fish. I mean really, what is there not to love?!
And people are beginning to take notice. In the last six months or so when I’ve been sitting at a bar waxing poetic (OK, shootin’ the shit) with a somm, and ask them for a white wine they’re excited about, several have poured me a glass of Aligoté. Ahh yes, we’re on to something.
These days, people don’t generally think of terroir when Aligoté comes to mind, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. These wines can be elegant, aromatic, and terroir driven2 just as they were before the phylloxera epidemic. For about fifty years or so plantings of the grape decreased but the last ten years or so have seen an uptick in plantings. Of course, it will never overtake Chardonnay as THE white wine of the region, and it’s not meant to.
Aligoté gets the most love in Bouzeron. Bouzeron is the only appellation Village in the Côte Chalonnaise to be made exclusively from the Aligoté Grape. Here, Aligoté gets the prime spots on the slope while Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at relegated to the “lesser” positions. With varied limestone soils, altitude, and hillside aspect, there is great diversity of expression in the wines of the region.
I recently had the opportunity to try a few Aligoté wines and was amazed at the variability in the wines. I could seriously envision myself rocking on the front porch (#DontHate! – I’m embracing the ‘mature’ Corkscrew Concierge) or a floatie in the pool with some of these. Others, a light summer meal.
2017 Domaine Catherine et Claude MARECHAL Bourgogne Aligoté
Crafted form 40-year old vines in clay and gravel soils, this is a classic Aligoté that is clean and crisp with lemon, apple, peach, and a touch of almond. This said ‘aperitif’ all day.
2016 Caves BAILLY-LAPIERRE Bourgogne Aligoté
This one comes from a cooperative of 400 members and hails from a cooler region than the first wine. Marl soils lead to a wine with a more reserved nose that exhibited more almond and a nice mineral finish.
2016 Domaine Manuel OLIVER Bourgogne Aligoté
Manuel Oliver is a newer estate created in 1990 with vines planted in white marl soils. With intense minerality, the wine had a fuller body than the previous wines and had a richness and ripeness that just drew you in.
2015 Domaine Pierre-Louis et Jean-Francois BERSAN Bourgogne Aligoté
Domaine Pierre-Louis is a family estate that first planted vines in 1453. With soils of Kimmeridgian clay3 and limestone combined with sustainable farming, this one hailed from the warm, but excellent 2015 vintage. Of all the wines, this one had the least crispness and was a softer, lower acid wine that was characterized by ripe peach and apricot.
2015 Maison Louis JADOT Bouzeron
The first of the two Bouzeron wines, this was instantly different from the first four wines. Though aging was in used oak, you knew it had seen some oak as as the wine was round and soft. Well-balanced and elegant, it exhibited a purity of flavor. Of all the wines, this may have been the most ‘Chardonnay like’ and yeah, it was my fave of the bunch.
2016 Domaine Les Champs de Thémis Les Corcelles Bouzeron
The second Bouzeron and last wine of the bunch, this one also saw some oak. Very rich and the most full-bodied of all the wines, it was well-structured with a long finish. The oak lent more complexity to the wine and this was an example of an Aligoté that could be cellared for a few years.
So given what we know Burgundian Chardonnay to be, not to mention the prices it can fetch, why do winemakers stick with Aligoté? Simple. Because it’s a Burgundian tradition and part of their heritage. And from a wine lover’s perspective, it’s versatility and affordability certainly make it worth exploring. In a nutshell, I found an easy-going, laid-back white wine that my wallet loves.
And if you don’t believe there is a lot of Aligoté love out there, check out this Aligoté Rap by Master Sommelier Steven McDonald of Houston.
- After the phylloxera epidemic, wine growers opted to plant Chardonnay due to its resilience.
- Though it can be found in a number of different s is planted mostly in limestone soils with small amounts of marl and clay.
- These soils are famous for providing the foundation of Chablis soils and is also well known in Champagne and the Loire Valley.