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?
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.
Here’s a wine steeped in history with the family winemaking roots dating back to the 1870s. Now the Cornu estate comprises 15ha mostly dedicated to the classic white grapes of Burgundy (aka heaven). This Aligote comes from a minuscule esteemed plot. Youthful and exuberant, it’s laced with apricot and lemon, and a hint of meringue. Refined stuff.
Domaine Pierre Amiot Bourgogne Aligoté 2018 Aligoté is one of our favourite things; great value from a region renowned for its stratospheric pricing and gloriously geeky and delicious to boot. Brothers Jean-Louis and Didier Amiot are behind this wine sourced from a mere 0.5 hectares of vines on the plain below Morey-St-Denis. Crisp yet expansive and a wonderful expression of one of Burgundy’s undervalued grape varieties.
Domaine Buisson Charles, one of the icons of Meursault, produces this Aligoté from 45 year-old vines planted along the road. Aligoté is a lesser known grape variety from Burgundy that has many attributes of Chardonnay but crisper and leaner. DBC's version, however, is mouthfilling and gorgeous. This Aligoté is one of the finest examples you will find in Burgundy as it has a complex nose of apple, honeycomb and floral notes while the palate oozes appealing sappy fruit.
Aligoté grown in the cool climate and volcanic soils of Victoria’s King Valley from Marc Lunt at Terrason Wines. Hand picked, crushed and pressed straight to a stainless steel tank for natural fermentation on full solids. We’re talking crisp citrus fruits with perhaps some stone-fruit facets with hints of soft spice and wild herbs and a distinct minerally, briney flick to its tail, finishing with a lovely flow and texture; crisp, saline and savoury right through to the finish.
Mac Forbes - EB63 Princess Leia Aligoté 2020 We have already professed our undying love for Aligoté. As Mugato says “it’s so hot right now’. Another of Macs ‘EB’ or experimental batch wines, which incidently, are all absolute rippers. Aligoté from the King Valley. Whole bunch pressed and wild fermented in large oak foudre before 5 months maturation in old oak. It’s just lovely and with a name like Princess Leia you really can’t go wrong.
Blind Corner - Chardonnay / Aligoté 2020 Certified organic & biodynamic Western Lo-Fi wine from the fine folk at Blind Corner in Margaret River. Here, Aligoté, the red-headed step-child of Burgundy, teams up with Chardonnay. Both wild-fermented for a wine that is textural and slinky, cut with citrus fruit soft spice and oatmeal with a tangy, sapid acid line that gets the mouth salivating for another glass. Spinal Tap levels of drinkability here.