Aligoté makes me think of the 1980s advertising slogan, “Pork. The Other White Meat.” The slogan was influential genius, and sales of pork rose 20% in 1991 in the US. The wine version of that iconic slogan would go something like, “Aligoté. The Other White Grape of Burgundy.” Aligoté, once as widely planted as Chardonnay in Burgundy, is experiencing a 21st-century renaissance.
Wine writer Alice Feiring enlightened us in 2011-2012, when she penned the leading-edge articles “The Underdog; Aligoté,” followed by “Aligoté’s Return.” In the following years, the alternative white grape of Burgundy began popping up in the portfolios of legendary Chardonnay producers and had watchful sommeliers saying, “Wait, they make an Aligoté?! I want it!” Aligoté, though, isn’t a new song; it isn’t a fleeting trend or temporary pop-up; it’s a precious old tune, an 18th-century classic, which, just like Chardonnay, unleashes the high-tension mineral thrill of Burgundian terroir. As today’s 2016 from Guy & Yvan Dufouleur demonstrates, there’s really only one thing a well-grown, well-made Aligoté lacks: The premium price tag. This is everything you could ask for in a white Burgundy for $22—not something you see too often—so of course we flipped for it. You will, too!
The people behind today’s wine couldn’t sync more perfectly with Aligoté’s historic self. Established on the slopes of Nuits-Saint-Georges in 1596, Domaine Guy & Yvan Dufouleur is currently managed by Yvan and his uncle, Xavier. They made a bold move in 2006, when they decided to sell the négociant side of their business, exclusively committing themselves to estate grown and bottled wines. An impressive 400-year plus history has enabled Dufouleur to stockpile terroir, a rich 28 hectares from the tip of the Côtes de Nuits to the foot of the Côte de Beaune. And within that stockpile, hiding behind the leaves of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, exists less than one hectare of 20-year Aligoté vines. Like Chardonnay, Aligoté is the Burgundian love child of Pinot and Gouais Blanc and was planted in the same vineyards as Chardonnay—even in Grand Crus, like Corton. The problem, though, is that Aligoté is more finicky than Chardonnay: it ripens later, is prone to uneven fruit set, and its younger vines are mediocre translators of place. After the deadly phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800s, the safe and obvious choice for replanting vineyards was Chardonnay. Aligoté was nearly wiped out from the most prestigious sites, assigned to the inferior lower lying plots of land. Then, the creation of the generic appellation “Bourgogne Aligoté” in the 1930s further drove its recession into a downgraded version of Chardonnay.
The heaps of bland Aligoté, often spiked with Crème de Cassis to make the Kir apéritif, are made from over-cropped, high-yielding, greenish colored berries. The good news is that today’s wine is made from the superior, low-yielding berries, golden in color, which give enduring aromatics and a buoyant palate. The Dufouleur’s vines come from two parcels on a 350m plateau above Nuits-Saint-Georges, within the confines of the “Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits.” Here, the soils are stony with an underbelly of clay and limestone and partially covered with grass to increase the vines’ struggle for water. Early pruning and leaf-stripping encourage phenolic ripeness, but the family prefers to pick on the earlier side, choosing sheerness over density. Delayed by spring frosts and an inconsistent early summer, the 2016 vintage made-up its speed with a warm July and August. As a result, it was a late-ripening vintage, siding with the stubbornness of Aligoté. Like many Burgundy wines from the 2016 vintage, quantities are far from plentiful. So, like the Dufouleur family wisely did, start making a stockpile!
A steady fermentation in steel lasted about one month, followed by 6 months of aging in steel again, where the wine completed a full malolactic fermentation. The conversion of malic acid into lactic acid centers the wine, giving roundness to the mouthfeel while balancing out the sharpness of terroir and intensity of the 2016 vintage.
The 2016 Domaine Dufouleur Bourgogne Aligoté is an absolute summer wine. Comfortably less “serious” than a Premier Cru of the Côte de Beaune and more in line with a fresh white from the Mâconnais, it enlivens the palate with lemon, white peach pit, white flowers, and crisp herbs. You can serve this wine a couple of degrees cooler than a Puligny-Montrachet, between 45-50 degrees. In the glass (an all-purpose stem is fine), a medium straw core shimmers into a silver rim. On the nose, lemony citrus leads into hawthorn, shades of light green, and beeswax. The brisk line of aromatics bends on the palate and transforms into crisp white- and yellow-fruit flavors. Then, like classic white Burgundy, the wine returns to center, energized by the feeling of cold stones and warm earth. Aligoté is a grape that can handle an arsenal of spices which seamlessly fold together with its unassuming floral and green tones. It gets along with some of the toughest spices, like cumin, paprika, fennel seed, and even turmeric. So, in admiration of the underdog, it’s time to renovate your spice cabinet, follow this impressively easy recipe, and raise a glass to the white wines of Burgundy. Cheers!
Limestone & Clay