Often ignored in favour of it’s significantly more famous opponent ‘Chardonnay’, the aligoté grape is in fact prominent throughout Burgundy, and often makes up a very important component of a White blend. Despite certainly suffering from being left in the shadow of Chardonnay, it does also reap some benefits from this position. The main being that it is indulged in having the same care, precision and attention that Chardonnay receives from the grower. Aligoté vines are well placed geographically, with dedicated winegrowers working all year tirelessly to ensure the perfect crop.
Commonly Aligoté is a dry and lean wine, with minerality and a saline touch. The grape is more resistant to the cold than most, and so in Burgundy it is often planted in the less prestigious vineyards at either the top or bottom of the slope. It is the second most popular white grape grown in Burgundy behind Chardonnay, although the gap is a wide one, with Aligoté holding a meagre 1,700 hectares against Chardonnay’s 12,800 hectares.
Why has it suffered?
The grape itself is not awful, however compared to Chardonnay it has never really stood up. As mentioned, it does not require a perfect microclimate to flourish and so does not benefit from the prestigious terroir of the mid-slope. Similarly this is not a wine to age, unlike Chardonnay, it is best drunk young and so its potential is seen as diminished. Its characteristic acidity also diminishes its popularity, however in a good year ripeness can compensate for this trait and bring out a very fine wine indeed.
Aligoté is in fact the main component of Burgundy’s sparkling wine varient; Crémant de Bourgogne. Bourgogne Aligoté is the generic appellation consisting of approx. 1,400 hectares across Burgundy, and are primarily for early consumption. Excellent examples include Leroy’s Bourgogne Aligoté from Vosne Romanée and Anne Boisson’s Bourgogne Aligoté from Meursault. Bouzeron in the Cote Chalonnaise however, is the only village to have its own Aligoté appellation, and these wine are thought to age better than the generic Bourgogne variety. In its simplest form it is also often mixed with a blackcurrant liquer to create what is known as a ‘kir’. Outside of France, the grape has huge popularity in Eastern Europe, being grown in large quantities throughout Romania, Georgia and Bulgaria, where its acidity is significantly more appreciated.
Clive Coates said of Aligoté that it “produces a light, primeur-style wine with a slightly herbal flavour and rather higher acidity than the Chardonnay.” When speaking about the only premier cru made of 100% Aligoté, Ponsot’s Clos des Monts Luisants Vieilles Vignes, he remarked that the wine is significantly improved since it returned to 100% aligoté production in 2005, a break of almost 100 year since the domaine had last produced the wine in this style.