In Burgundy, where chardonnay and pinot noir reign supreme, aligoté plays the role of the ‘other’ white grape. Yet this humble varietal — representing just 6 percent of the region’s land under vine — has long been a part of this terroir-defined landscape in eastern France. In skilled hands, it can be more than just an afterthought.
To become more than just a quaffable, tart-with-acid white, aligoté needs to achieve sufficient ripeness. The extent to which the sun coaxes the grape to maturity in this semi-continental climate has much to do with where plots are situated, a vintage year’s weather, and the soils on which the fruit is grown. Keeping yields low also helps the varietal achieve its potential.
Vignerons Guilhem Goisot and his father, Jean-Hugues, have a deep understanding of the varietal’s needs. They farm vines biodynamically in and around Saint-Bris, cheek by jowl to Chablis, and are renowned for getting beautiful results. Their version of Bourgogne Aligoté burnishes that reputation. Native yeasts kick off fermentation, and the wine is aged on the fine lees, providing nuance and subtle weight to the finished product.
Travel southeast for an hour and a half toward Beaune, then south to Rully in Côte Chalonnaise. Winegrower Vincent Dureuil-Janthial, whose family’s roots in the village reach back to the 13th century, farms organically. Conversion to herbicide-free agriculture began in earnest almost 20 years ago. Like the Goisot team to the north, this vigneron understands the importance of ripeness — a bit easier to achieve in this more southerly location. Whole clusters from estate-grown vines are pressed, and the juice is fermented by means of indigenous yeast. The wine is aged in barrel for more than a year and bottled unfiltered.
Staying in Côte Chalonnaise, continue a half-hour’s drive south, and arrive in Buxy. It’s home to Vignerons de Buxy, a cooperative that revises notions about this pooled-resources model of winemaking. More than a hundred families contribute fruit from their often-tiny parcels, and the soundness of those grapes is monitored every step of the way. Aging in stainless steel promotes a fresh expression of the varietal.
Winegrowers like these know how to take aligoté from good to great. Every underdog grape should be so fortunate.
Guilhem et Jean-Hugues Goisot Bourgogne Aligoté 2014 Subtle, waterfall-fresh aromas combine with freshly cut tree fruit, leading to a tart-yet-ripe palate with a touch of saline and a pleasingly rounded texture. A real sophisticate. Around $20. At Porter Square Wine & Spirits, Cambridge, 617-547-3110; Marty’s Fine Wines, Newton, 617-332-1230.
Domaine Vincent Dureuil-Janthial Bourgogne Aligoté 2015 Fresh and inviting on the nose, like river water over stones, with a note of large-format oak. Confidently ripe with pear, apple, and mineral. A beauty. Around $22. At Central Bottle Wine + Provisions, Cambridge, 617-225-0040; Craft and Cru, Milton, 617-322-1162.
Vignerons de Buxy “Buissonnier” Bourgogne Aligoté 2015 Offering aromatic zing, this white is lightly tropical on the nose. Ripe on the palate with a confectionary quality, it’s softly textured, reminiscent of a New World style. Around $13. At Porter Square Wine & Spirits; Cambridge Wine & Spirits, Cambridge, 617-864-7171.Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.