Taste: Aromas of acacia, hawthorn, lemon and brioche are followed by flavors of apple, pear, citrus fruits and herbs, together with mineral notes and a nutty finish. Note: many poor examples are sharp and lacking in flavor.
Body: Light to medium
Dry / Sweet: Dry
Age: Generally drink within two years of release, but the best wines can improve for a decade or more.
Aka: Also known as Aligot, Blanc de Troyes, Chaudenet Gris, Giboudet Blanc, Griset Blanc, Plant Gris and Vert Blanc.
Other: Traditionally mixed with cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) to make a vin blanc cassis, which is more commonly known as Kir.
Aligoté (AH-lee-go-TAY) is the almost forgotten second white grape variety of Burgundy. Chardonnay gets all the attention – the best sites, the publicity and the praise. But it wasn’t always so. Aligoté is the victim of history and circumstance, which has reduced it to a minor presence in Burgundy today. It was first recorded in Burgundy in the 18thcentury and is almost certainly native to the region. DNA profiling has revealed it to be related to the Pinot family, as it is a cross between an early Pinot clone and an obscure vine called Gouais Blanc. As it happens, this is the same parentage as Chardonnay and a number of other French varieties, so there is nothing wrong with Aligoté’s pedigree.
Up to the advent of the devastating Phylloxera louse in the late 19thcentury (see entry in Glossary for details) Aligoté was planted alongside Chardonnay and the grapes were harvested and vinified together to produce ‘field blends’. However, after Phylloxera destroyed all the vineyards, it was decided to replant mainly with Chardonnay because it was easier to grow. In these circumstances Aligoté was relegated to the poorer sites with the best being kept for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. As Aligoté can tolerate cooler conditions than Chardonnay, it was also often planted on the more exposed hilltop locations and the more fertile soils (not good for vines) of the valley floors.
As you would expect, when you plant vines on poor sites the wines they make will inevitably be poor and so the reputation that Aligoté has acquired of producing low quality wines perpetuates itself. Unfortunately, much of the Aligoté produced today reflects these conditions resulting in thin, tart wines with little flavor or merit. This is compounded by the fact that it is also a high yielding grape. For Aligoté to reveal its true potential it should be planted on good sites and the yields restricted. The vines should also be at least 15 years old and preferably older. When these conditions are met, and the grapes fully ripen, it is capable of producing excellent quality wines with great elegance and finesse.
Aromas of acacia, hawthorn, lemon and brioche are followed by flavors of apple, pear, citrus fruits and herbs, together with mineral notes and a nutty finish. Its capacity to reflect its terroir can be quite profound and something of a revelation. Generally oak contact should be minimal or avoided altogether, as Aligoté does not take well to it. High natural acidity also gives Aligoté wonderfully refreshing qualities and enables the best wines to age for a decade and more. This acidity is its main contribution when used in a blend. With average temperatures increasing due to climate change, Aligoté’s acidity may yet prove to be its salvation.
There are a number of winemakers dedicated to realizing the potential of this forgotten and much-maligned grape. It is well worth taking the time to seek them out.
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