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August 6, 2022

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Beat the heat with refreshing Aligote

One of the world’s best vino summer solutions is a largely unknown wine from Burgundy, France. Unknown to most wine consumers that is, but certainly not to Burgundy’s winemakers who favor the wine as an aperitif, with lunch or to use in the famous Kir cocktail. Welcome to the world of Aligote.

Many mass-produced white wines have an abundance of fruit but little acidity and are derogatorily referred to as being flabby or fat. These wines are also poor companions to food and while popular to novice drinkers who favor fruit over all other components, they are rightly scorned by more developed palates.

The positive role of acidity in food-friendly wines should not surprise true gourmets as every great food culture in the world has long known the essential role of acidity in making ingredients more fresh, distinctive and digestible. Examples are hairy crab with vinegar, fresh lemon sprinkled on grilled fish and lemon grass served with Thai dishes.

Popular acidic whites include Spanish Albarinos, French and Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs and dry Rieslings. Unoaked Chardonnays also feature good acidity. Our grape of the week Aligote is yet another delightfully acidic white wine.

In Burgundy, the Aligote grape is a humbler, less regarded grape than the noble Chardonnay. But in the right hands it can make exceedingly fresh, clean and pleasing wines. This early-ripening and hearty grape has a predilection toward high acidity and the challenge for most growers and winemakers is to gain enough fruitiness to offset and balance the natural acidity.

DNA fingerprinting indicates that the grape is a cross between Pinot Noir and the somewhat obscure yet historically important Gouais Blanc variety. The earliest mention of Aligote wines in Burgundy dates back to 1780 when it was referred to as Plant de Trios, literally “plant of three” as branches usually support three bunches of grapes. Over the ensuing century the grape was often inter-planted and field-blended with Chardonnay grapes. In 19th century bottles of Montrachet and other great Burgundy whites there was often a modest amount of Aligote.

Starting with the devastating Phylloxera pest outbreak in the latter part of the 19th century and continuing throughout most of the 20th century, plantings of Aligote vines gradually diminished in Burgundy. The vines were replaced by the more popular and financially lucrative Chardonnay variety.

However, a small cadre of acidic-loving loyalists remained and in our new millennium the variety has been experiencing a small but steady revival among dedicated wine aficionados. The first step in this revitalization was official recognition.

Bourgogne Aligote AOC

In 1937, the Aligote grape along with other local varieties were granted their own regional AOC status. The creation of the Bourgogne Aligote AOC along with the sub-region of Bouzeron Aligote AOC didn’t immediately stop the decline of the grape in Burgundy but it did lay an essential foundation for a comeback.

Today, an increasing number of top Burgundy winemakers are extolling the grape’s benefits and in particular express the belief that Aligote is just as capable as Chardonnay in elegantly showcasing the beguiling complexity of Burgundian terrior. They are joined by a growing number of sophisticated consumers who seek out clean and structured white wines.

Bourgogne Aligote AOC wines always offer an abundance of acidity. Well-made examples tend to exhibit a pale gold color, peach, lemon, green apple and floral aromas and expressive citrus, apple and floral aromas and flavors with a tart and slightly saline finish.

A personal favorite is the lightly-oaked, biodynamic Vincent Girardin Bourgogne Aligote made from 50-year-old vines. This graceful and delicate wine is chock full of acidity with a lovely mouthfeel, pear and apple aromas and a pleasing citrus finish. Wine lovers can find other fine examples of Aligote wines in Shanghai produced by Francois Mikulski, Thierry Mortet, Fanny Sabre, Philippe Pacelet, Mongeard Mugueret and Yann Durieux.

Aligote grapes also play a blending role in some Cremant de Bourgogne sparkling wines adding freshness, while Aligote whites still remain the preferred wine in the legendary Kir cocktail. Outside of France, Aligote is cultivated in Eastern Europe, especially Bulgaria and Romania. Selected growers in California, Oregon and Washington State are also discovering the potential of Aligote to make distinguished single-variety wines and also as a blending grape that contributes acidity and aromas.

When purchasing Aligote whites, it’s important to select wines from a recent vintage. Unlike the grand age-worthy Chardonnay whites of the Cote d’Or, Aligote wines should be enjoyed young when they still retain their freshness and exuberance. Remember to serve the wines well-chilled or about 8 degrees Celsius.

In this record-breaking heat and humidity of Shanghai summer, I strongly advocate a glass or two of thirst-quenching and refreshing Aligote.


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