Burgundy is a famous French wine region, known for producing some of the world’s best and most expensive wines.

Burgundy is mainly admired for its Chardonnay and Pinot noir. However, besides them, the Burgundian hills have another offspring, Aligoté. It may not be as well-known, but there is no reason to miss it.

This white grape variety came out in Burgundy in the 17th century, as a cross of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. The latter variety, now almost extinct, is an ancestor of many popular grape varieties, including Chardonnay.
Aligoté is an early-ripening and frost-resistant variety, well-suited to the cool climate of Burgundy. Its defining feature is its high natural acidity, which is even higher than that of Chardonnay. The best Aligoté wines are very dry, light, and refreshing, with aromas of apples, white peaches, white flowers, and herbs, along with a light salty touch.

Until the end of the 19th century, Burgundy grew a significant amount of Aligoté. Even Grand Cru vineyards, including the famous Corton-Charlemagne and Montrachet, produced Aligoté. However, after the phylloxera epidemic, many winemakers chose to replace dead vines with more popular varieties of these times, and Chardonnay pushed Aligoté out of the prime spots on Burgundian hills. Now, only 6% of Burgundy’s grapes are Aligoté.

With a few rare exceptions, Aligoté has been relegated to the less desirable parts of the hills: the bottoms, where the soil is too fertile for good grape, and the tops, where air is too cold even for Aligoté. As Burgundian winemakers moved Aligoté out of their best vineyards, they also started to pay less attention to the quality of Aligoté grapes. In Burgundy, the average allowed yield of Aligoté is 60 hl/ha, which is too high to produce truly aromatic wine.

Meanwhile, some attractive exceptions do exist. In Morey-Saint-Denis, a small Aligoté vineyard has been preserved, which Domaine Ponsot uses to produce Clos des Monts Luisants 1er Cru, the only Aligoté of such a category in Burgundy. Additionally, renowned producers like Leroy, Coche-Dury, Roulot, Ramonet, Lafarge, and Marquis d’Angerville continue to produce high-quality Aligoté.

Fortunately, Aligoté was not completely expelled from Burgundian hearts and barrels. In 1937, Aligoté was granted its own AC – Bourgogne-Aligoté, covering Aligoté produced in any part of Burgundy. Aligoté is used to make still varietal wine, although adding up to 15% of Chardonnay is allowed. Aligoté is also used in blends for sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne, made using traditional methods. The base of blanc-de-blanc Crémant de Bourgogne is usually Chardonnay, with adding Aligoté to provide the desired acidity.

However, despite its formal acceptance, Aligoté remained the unbeloved child of Burgundy until 1971, when Aubert de Villaine, the owner of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, bought a vineyard in the Bouzeron village in Côte Chalonnaise. He and his wife Pamela founded Domaine A. & P. de Villaine dedicated to Aligoté production. De Villaine put a lot of effort into perfecting their Aligoté, benefiting from Bouzeron’s unique clone – Aligoté Doré (golden Aligoté). Unlike the more common Aligoté Vert (green Aligoté), Aligoté Doré is more aromatic and delicate. Bouzeron also preserved many old vines, some 60 years old and even 100 years old.

Of course, nothing would work lacking a good approach. For example, Bouzeron allowed the maximum yield of 45 hl/ha, significantly lower than the average of 60 hl/ha for Bourgogne Aligoté AC. That helps to increase the wine’s aroma. In 1979, Bouzeron received its own AC – Bourgogne Aligoté de Bouzeron, which was upgraded to AOC Bouzeron in 1997. Bouzeron produces 100% Aligoté, and this is considered the best French Aligoté, and probably the best of the world.

In recent years, interest in Aligoté has been steadily growing, and other producers, besides those in Bouzeron, have started to produce high-quality Aligoté. Surprisingly, climate warming has contributed to this resurgence. Even on the cold tops of hills, Aligoté now receives enough warmth for full ripening.

In France, aside from Burgundy, Aligoté is grown in small quantities in the Loire Valley and Rhône. Outside France, Aligoté is cultivated in Switzerland and Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Russia. In fact, Eastern Europe grows much more Aligoté than France. For these countries, the cold-resistant Aligoté is an excellent choice.
Small vineyards of Aligoté can also be found in the USA, Australia, Chile, and Canada, where it is usually used in blends.

Aligoté is delightful when young, but aging for 2-3 years fully reveals its taste. Often, Aligoté is aged on lees in stainless steel tanks, but modern French winemakers also experiment with oak, sometimes even using new oak barrels.

Aligoté is best served chilled to 11-12°C (52-54°F). It makes an excellent refreshing aperitif and pairs well with seafood, white meat, and soft goat and sheep cheeses. It is a perfect match for traditional Burgundian dishes such as gougères, escargot, and jambon with parsley sauce.

Traditionally, Aligoté serves as the foundation for Kir, a cocktail originating in Burgundy crafted from wine and crème de cassis—yet this deserves a separate discussion.

Discuss on FB