Recommendations, Wine Education

Varietal Exploration[Vol.1]: Aligoté

Written by Simone Popov · 6 min read >

As I sit at my desk, a glass of Ramonet Bouzeron at hand, I can’t help but ponder the nature and history of the beautiful grape Aligoté. I share a certain kinship with Aligoté, a grape that has long been discounted and underestimated, more often found on a cocktail menu (as the neutral wine base of the infamous Kir cocktail) than on the wine list alongside Montrachet and Meursault. But perceptions change, palates evolve, winemaking improves, and- as the price for Burgundy Chardonnay skyrockets-  more and more people are being drawn to Aligoté. We are in the Aligoté renaissance, a time reminiscent of Burgundy’s past, where wines were affordable and- with the right producer and site- you could taste the sublime without the need to mortgage the house and sell the car. Good times.

It is my hope in writing this article to challenge you to give this grape a chance, as it will not only diversify your palate but bring you into a world that you didn’t even know existed; the world of affordable white Burgundy

The Story of Aligoté

We trace the parentage of Aligoté to Pinot and Gouais Blanc. As such, the grape is the sibling of Chardonnay and the offspring of Pinot

Note: Pinot Noir is a mutation of the Pinot family, as is Pinot Blanc, Gris, Meunier, and a few others.

 Nonetheless, it was undoubtedly not as beloved as its’ sibling. Burgundy’s mandate from 1807 suggested that growers pull out Aligoté rather than plant in the Cote d’Or. Still, our underdog variety survived. Yet while Chardonnay received all the praises and best lots of land, Aligoté was often relegated to less promising sites. The grape is also plentiful and high-yielding, lending itself to mass production for simpler “daily drinker” wines. The variety’s reputation, therefore, became “a relatively neutral, sometimes eye-watering-tart, everyday wine… improved by an addition of crème de cassis to make an aperitif known as kir ( according to Jancis Robinson, Wine Grapes).

This [above] is where the misunderstanding of the grape begins. For- while continuously compared to the star power of Chardonnay- Aligoté is actually more reminiscent of Pinot Gris. It is naturally more textural (and therefore more bitter in the hands of the wrong producer). While Chardonnay takes on new oak like a beautiful- yet shallow- woman takes to a fur coat, Aligoté- with proper care- provides its own substance without the accouterments.

The Renaissance

The Aligoté grape serves as a reminder that any grape can be transformed from basic to sublime with love and understanding of the variety. These days, there is more diversity within the grape than ever before. You can still find your neutral, acid-heavy “Kir-base” Aligoté. However, you will uncover some absolute gems with just a little research into the regions and producers (or just a conversation with a qualified wine clerk/sommelier). Just below the Bourgogne Blancs on the shelf are Aligote wines with pedigree, structure, perfect oak and acid integration, and flavors equaling or surpassing those of Chardonnay. Despite the fame, allure, and tradition of the classic “Bourgogne Blanc” (100% Chardonnay), many top-tier Burgundy producers also produce an Aligoté with the same dedication and diligence as they do with their Grand Cru sites. Among these are Domaine Ramonet, Roulot, Sylvain Pataille, and Aubert de Villaine (of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti fame)

Tasting

Still skeptical?

To back up my assertion, I procured some wines from some of my favorite Aligoté to give you a glimpse of the world of excellent Aligote.

Note on the tasting: These wines were selected based on my understanding and research of Aligoté producers, as well as relative affordability. While certain ones I find more interesting/complex/ flavorful than others, all wines featured are of very good to outstanding quality and should be experienced personally to appreciate fully.

We will first acknowledge the producer, and then talk about the tasting notes on the wine(s) sampled, and then finish with a conclusion.

Sylvain Pataille [info]

The Domaine is one of those ideal places in Burgundy where the wine takes precedence over pedigree. As a result, some phenomenal results are produced (with minimal intervention) from grapes of lower reputation (such as Aligoté) using low-intervention techniques (think Natural Wine but in the hands of masters) from a region-Marsannay- not famous for Grand Crus. Indeed, Sylvain is the master, and his Aligoté is one of the most renowned in Cote D’Or- despite being in the northernmost (therefore the coldest) village.

2019 Sylvain Pataille “La Charme aux Pretres” Bourgogne Aligote

2019 Bourgogne Aligoté “La Charme Aux Pretres”  [info]

Price: $59 [WineSearcher]

The name translates roughly to “fallow land of the church.” While this land may not have been meant for wheat and potatoes, it is undoubtedly destined to produce phenomenal Aligoté.  

Tasting Note

Medium gold color. Incredible aroma intensity translates into great flavor intensity on the palate. Notes of fresh apple, pineapple, honeysuckle, mango, lemon tart, yogurt, papaya, and crème. The fruit is fresh and ripe. A mouthwatering acidity and a delightfully long finish.

Conclusion

I tasted this wine against the Sylvain Pataille “Clos Du Roy” of the same vintage (note later). The wine showed incredible freshness despite the ripe fruit. The high acid perfectly complemented the fruit ripeness. This juxtaposition of fruit and acid is uncommon because ripe fruits typically indicate grapes being on the vine too long, which often means the acid is absent. So it was delightful to see ripe fruits counteracted by fresh acid to deliver a long and splendid flavor profile along the palate

2019 Sylvain Pataille “Clos du Roy” Bourgogne Aligote

2019 Bourgogne Aligoté “Clos Du Roy” [info]

Price: $52 [WineSearcher]

“The Enclosure (vineyard surrounded by walls) of the King.” “Roy” is the old spelling of “Roi,” which in French means King. So it was indeed royal in its flavor profile, and we should all bow our heads.   

Tasting Note

Medium gold color. Great aroma intensity, but more flavorful once you taste it. Flavors of tart apple, white flowers, savory herbs (maybe a touch of fennel), mango candy, lemon drop, honeysuckle, and lime zest. Some fruit showing is a bit of an overripe/desiccated nature.

Conclusion

I tasted the wine against the same vintage’s Sylvain Pataille “La Charme Aux Pretres.” And comparatively, this wine was a bit more punchy… a bit more muscular. Some say “more masculine,” although such terminology may be frowned upon. Maybe it is the association of the kings of old vs. those pious monks of the church. However, this was a clearly defined comparison of bigger, bolder, and riper vs. more elegant and ethereal. So it is tough to say which wine is better, “better” being a subjective concept. I prefer the more refined, but I am sure many people would see the comparison differently. Both Pataille wines are sublime and my favorites of the journey.

Domaine De Villaine (A & P De Villaine) [info]

In the 1970s, the famed co-director of Domaine De La Romanee Conti (DRC for short), Aubert De Villaine, and his American wife Pamela searched for the new frontier of winemaking in Burgundy. This journey took them to Bouzeron, ideally situated south of the famed village of Chassagne and its Montrachet vineyard. Bouzeron is somewhat unique in Burgundy because there Aligoté reigns supreme. Aubert’s deep understanding of the land and Aligoté variety makes wines of great concentration and exceptional quality.

2019 De Villaine Bouzeron

A& P De Villaine Bouzeron [info]

Price : $32 [Wine Searcher]

This wine is a brilliant example of what is becoming one of the better vintages [2019] of white Burgundy. Minimal intervention yet precise winemaking techniques made this wine one of the best Bouzerons in 2019.

Tasting Note

The wine was medium gold in color but leaning towards deep. Aromas were rich and deep. Notes and flavors of the fruit are honeyed and candied and show somewhat marmalade characteristics. Flavors reminiscent of orange rind, tangerine, melon, pineapple, and pear are alluring. Fresh herbs, minerals, and bright acid are an excellent counterbalance to the ripeness of fruits. There is plenty of texture and a hint of salinity on the palate.

Conclusion

Very rich yet not out of balance.Very ripe yet fresh as a breeze. This wine is full of duality, and we are all here for it. This is not a wine to be taken lightly; it is suitable for aging and decanting and (if available) a definite must-buy.

Jean-Claude Ramonet [info]

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Ramonet wines are some of the most esteemed in Burgundy.

Jean Claude Ramonet Bouzeron [info]

2017 Ramonet Bouzeron

Price: $64 [Wine Searcher]

Jean-Claude and Noel Ramonet’s reputation precedes them wherever they go. So when they turned to the terroirs of Bouzeron,  the world held its breath. And what appeared in the bottle… does not disappoint, to say the least

Tasting Note

Gold in color. Pretty intense aromas and flavors of banana ice cream, creamsicle, underripe pineapple, pie crust (which is very prevalent), honey, wild sage, papaya, cinnamon, golden apple, and baking spices. A soft and lengthy finish.

Conclusion

An excellent wine. Displaying great oak flavors but in a good way. It is very masterful how Ramonet integrates oak and ripe flavors but maintains acidity. A wine reminiscent of a classic Burgundy Chardonnay but a little less fat.

Didier Fornerol [info]

Fornerol’s focus is Cote de Nuits- Villages. After long work at Domaine de L’Arlot, Didier returned to run his winery in Corgoloin. While red wine is ever the focus for Didier, he harvests some Aligote, made into a terrific and approachable wine.  

2019 Didier Fornerol Bourgogne Aligote

Didier Fornerol Bourgogne Aligote [info]

Price: $22 [WineSearcher]

The Aligote comes from a 0.40-hectare parcel around the village of Corgoloin. Fermentation occurs at low temperatures for around three months, depending on the vintage. The wine is then aged entirely in old barrels.

Tasting Note

Greenish lemon in color. Underripe fruits, dried herbs, white flowers, wild herbs, minerality. Flavor intensity is noted but not intense—elegant and fresh, reasonably lengthy finish.

Conclusion

Fornerol Aligoté takes a bit of a different approach from the wines noted in the tasting. This subtle wine showcases a bit more green character associated with Aligote. It is fresh and light but pleasant. There is no overbearing green herbal note, but rather it is complemented by white blossoms. Great picnic wine.

Note: not all wines tasted were featured here. Although they had their redeeming qualities, they were underwhelming compared to the wines featured above. So they were not featured because “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

What we learned

From these wines, we can glimpse the absolute best of Aligoté. It is still an often-misunderstood grape, but in the right hands and under the proper guidance- it can stun and amaze. And, as we see, plenty of well-established vignerons are willing to take on the challenge of making “Burgundy’s second grape.” From the most renowned name in Vosne Romanee to a historical winery in Chassagne Montrachet and all in between.

So, in the end, the underdog Aligoté is well represented, and we should all give it a chance because we might find that “bang-for-the-buck” Burgundy we have been looking for all along.

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