Aligoté is having a bit of a moment.
In its native Burgundy, this cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc grapes was prevalent before phylloxera struck in the late 19th century. After the scourge, however, Chardonnay rose as the region’s white grape of choice, and any Aligoté still grown was mainly used for simple wines. Now, the variety’s seeing a resurgence.
The formation of Les Aligoteurs association last year cemented the grape’s comeback. The French group, whose sole purpose is to promote the underdog variety, organized a sold-out tasting of more than 50 producers that brought wines from as far back as 1996.
New bottlings from North America have popped up, too, mostly from very young plantings and emerging producers. Here’s to this old grape’s new beginnings.
Currently, the most notable North American planting of Aligoté is five acres at Château des Charmes, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Its founder, Paul Bosc, who studied viticulture and oenology in Dijon, France, first planted the variety in 1978. The ripe and juicy version it produces now comes from grapes planted in the early 1990s. Local vine suppliers have started to offer some clones, so new producers will likely emerge.
New-wave producers like Brianne Day of Day Wines, Kate Norris at Gamine Wines and Luke Wylde of Statera Cellars released their first Aligotés last year. The small runs were all snapped up quickly. Day describes her bottling as, “a bit more fruit forward than classic French versions,” with chalky saline notes and low alcohol (11.5%). Minimus Wines, Flâneur Wines and Lumos Wine Co. are also in the state’s Aligoté conversation. “The potential is definitely there,” says Norris, who’s excited at what the diverse soils and winemaking styles could yield.
Grapes from a 1968 planting at Newhouse Family Vineyards in Yakima Valley, Washington, were used to make what was, for a while, the only Oregon bottling of Aligoté, produced by John Eliassen at La Bête wines from 1998–2009. More recently, the rich, ripe Washington grapes have also been bottled by Jed Steele of Steele Wines in California, with alcohol levels that can eclipse 14%.
The 2018 Aligoteurs tasting in Burgundy had a surprising guest: Young Inglewood Vineyards. The St. Helena producer has crafted Aligoté from a minuscule plot since 2015. One of California’s first bottlings came from Josh Jensen of Calera Wine Company, who field-grafted over two rows of vines during the 2000s. Ernest Vineyards also makes one from Sonoma fruit.