Aligoté is experiencing a renaissance in Bourgogne, morphing from a rather ill-reputed grape to the new interest of a number of competent and “fancy” producers who like to be at the forefront of the region. And they can focus their efforts all while avoiding the cost of buying or renting very expensive vineyards.
This has created a new, dynamic market for Burgundian producers, and Les Aligoteurs, a cadre of growers of the grape, are at the core of this “movement.”
On July 9, Les Aligoteurs held a large summer tasting at Bois Rouge – a restaurant in Flagey-Echezeaux – to give its members a platform to show their wines – and to party and/or celebrate themselves.
This was a fine initiative, as it reintroduces a slightly anarchic element to the Burgundy marketing scene normally dominated by paid professionals.
We like the anarchy, although in a hard week’s tasting schedule the stamina to drink and enjoy is somehow limited. So the Winehog has no nude photos from the after-party in the parks of Flagey.
The issues are a part of the dynamic
The anarchic setup contributes to both the charm and the problematic issues of this marketing format.
The group has grown big, and this causes some challenges and real issues.
For a summer tasting, this is charming. But with a larger group, the diverse quality and style of aligotés does pose a challenge.
There are many very good – even some great – wines. But there are also wines that really should not be shown. That said, this is also true about the official tastings at the Grand Jours de Bourgogne.
The second issue is even more complex: What is an aligoté? The style and the vinification? These are apparently not simple questions to answer, and I don’t want to give to response. Rather, I want to cheer the best wines I tasted at the Aligoteurs event.
Aligoté and global warming
Aligoté is what some would call both a challenging and a changing grape – hence also the diverse offering of the Aligoteurs tasting.
Gone are the days of its use only for Blanc Cassis (Kir), or as an unripe but fresh and somewhat watery summer aperitif or lunchtime quaffer.
Instead, with global warming, more ripe and aromatic wines have shown that aligoté can actually offer something aromatically interesting and different.
Aligoté is a grape full of character; hence also the diversity of the wines shown by the Aligoteurs. Some I like; others express sides of aligoté I don’t fancy so much – sorry.
Our French friends use the word “agrume” to encompass the citrus flavours of aligoté (I’m not sure that this fully encompasses the nuances, as I have found aligoté in many different shapes and forms) as the grape-signature changes with the hotter climate and higher levels of ripeness.
Aligoté does, aside from its differentiated citrus notes, have spicy and mineral notes as well that to a certain degree reflect the terroir, the vinification, and the producer. To be completely honest, most aligotés come from terroirs that I do not know very well, apart from their positions on a map. Hence it is difficult for me to isolate their terroir expression. But I am willing to learn.
The last – and for me most interesting – quality of aligoté is its price, as it is frequently priced at a reasonable level where even the Winehog can enjoy the wine without serious financial implications. There is, however, a risk that even aligoté will quickly reach a price level where it is no longer a true vin de soif: drink, enjoy, no remorse. Just look at Coche and Arnaud Ente – both very enjoyable aligotés, except for the price of entry.
Mes favourites, and their style
I tried to taste most of the interesting producers and a number of unknowns from amongst the 40-60 bottles that were generously opened by the fine members of Les Aligoteurs. Merci ❤️❤️❤️!
I don’t want to – and cannot – rate or describe these wines in detail, as the setting was made for saying hello, chatting, and for pleasure and enjoyment, attributes in tune with the purpose of aligoté as a vin de soif – in some cases a very good vin de soif!
Let’s start with one of the main organizers (amongst others), Laurent Fournier, who did an excellent job directing the event. Merci 👍, and also to the rest of the organizing team.
Laurent Fournier of Domaine Jean Fournier offered several of his excellent aligotés from the year 2018. My favourite was (as far as I recall) Champ Forey, from just north of the village of Marsannay. It has a vinous, delightful balance and harmony. A lovely expression of the northern parts of Bourgogne, it is subtle, yet detailed and enjoyable. Made from old vines planted from 1921 and 1945.
Marthe Henry Boillot has more of a mineral edge in her aligoté, although it is more organic and filigreed than most other aligotés from Meursault producers. The 2018 can currently work as an aperitif, while the 2017 is a bit more minerally serious – or feisty if you like. It is a true delight.
Domaine Jérôme Galeyrand’s versions are some of my top-end favourites, with a filigreed refinement rare in an aligoté. His Bouzeron 2018 is more expressive, while the Bourgogne Alligotay 2018 is more detailed (as far as I recall it’s from Ladoix). Take your pick: Either will leave you with a big smile.
Bruno Clair poured a tremendous aligoté 2017; rather classic to my mind, but quite intense, pure, and vivid, with good energy. This was a treat.
The Great Papa ...
The Nicolas Faure Corvée de Bully is an old vine-fest combined with the grower’s organic style. An intense, refined wine which in the best vintages establishes a benchmark for how far aligoté can go. 100 year old vines with matching depth and complexity. The 2018 was a treat, yet 2017 and 2014 are better. Nicolas Faure is also one of the founders of Les Aligoteurs.
Missing – for me – was the bottles of Sylvain Pataille – also a founder. I did not find his wines, although they were there apparently.
My style of aligoté
The wines mentioned above all give me a hedonistic experience, and while relatively few aligotés give me the full vin d’émotion thrill, more and more do. Hence more and more should be tasted.
And if this is combined with a low price, then I am back in the game!