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Variety Focus ➺ Aligotè

Variety Focus ➺ Aligotè

Under The Radar

Aligotè has had it rough – a life in the shadows of the oh so hip and in demand Chardonnay has left this humble white wine from France's Burgundy without much of a following, or even much recognition to begin with. Here at Sometimes Always, we love the unsung hero and think that’s a real shame, because if you’re able to get your hands on a bottle of Aligotè you’ll discover an excellent, refreshing wine that’s made with the same care as much of the region’s more popular sibling, Chardonnay.

You can’t blame Aligotè for flying under the radar. Although, just like Chardonnay, the grape was born in Burgundy, Aligotè has never had the same global oomph that Chardonnay does. It isn’t a wine you age, it’s one you drink young, so the vines of Aligotè have always been relegated to the bottom and tops of the slopes, not the pristine middle where the terroir is considered to be the most spectacular.

But the grapes are still grown. Burgundians could easily choose to plant lesser quality Chardonnay on the tops and bottoms of the slopes; as a Chardonnay from Burgundy, it would still sell, even if the quality wasn’t the same. But they choose to still plant Aligotè since it’s an everyday wine, and that’s something everyone needs.

While Chardonnay might be more formal – a serious white to be paired with serious cuisine – Aligotè is a quaffable gem, dry with floral and herbal notes and an almost lemony character. There is also richness in Aligotè wines from Burgundy, but only a bit. It’s the wine you drink after a long day working in the vineyards or at the winery. Many vintners in California choose light beer after a long day’s work, but why drink that when you have such a wonderful wine?

Back From The (almost) Dead

In a way, growing aligoté in a place like Burgundy is a moral act—especially when you consider that the game has been stacked against it since 1937, when authorities created the Bourgogne Aligoté appellation (not to mention the phylloxera plague in the late 1800’s). The move acknowledged the grape’s prominence, but also banished its use in nearly every other appellation, effectively ghettoizing it in favour of chardonnay (which, incidentally, shares its parentage with Aligoté).

Today it can be difficult to sum up what Aligoté tastes like—in part because it was, and still is, grown to excessive yields and is rarely a candidate for good farming or superior cultivars. But good Aligoté, treated with the same care as the region’s chardonnays, is similarly sensitive to locale. The versions grown near Chablis can be more flinty and stark than the plusher versions found near Meursault. Always, though, it’s more mineral than fruity in its flavours. It often shows a fresh aspect not unlike raindrops (sometimes, specifically, like petrichor). And the acidity is, yes, unavoidable, which is why even halfway serious Aligoté requires low yields and very ripe grapes to produce an identity beyond tartness.

Fortunately, it’s getting a lot more help on that front. Give some credit to the global warming that’s boosting ripeness throughout Burgundy, especially in once-marginal growing areas. Like many underdogs, Aligoté is currently having a moment, recast in a trash-glamour sort of way. At a time when Burgundy has become a totem for the rich, Aligoté stands out as its populist wing—the sort of Bernie Sanders of Burgundian varieties.

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