The Other Side of the Slope: Burgundy’s Other Grapes and Wines

aligote grape vine
Aligote vine / Photo Courtesy Domaine Ponsot

Burgundy is known for two noble grape varieties: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The vast majority of the plantings there are those two varieties, which often command insanely high prices. But there’s more to Burgundy than meets the eye, with a variety of styles produced and grapes other than Chardonnay and Pinot can also create stellar wines, but with incredible value.   

Aligoté   

One of Burgundy’s “other” white grapes, Aligoté sits in the shadow of its famous relative, Chardonnay, but it is by no means second rate. It’s grown on about 5,000 acres, most notably in the Côte Chalonnaise and the appellation of Bouzeron. Its acidity and frost resistance make it seem like it should be more popular worldwide, though it’s found some success growing in Bulgaria and Romania as well.  

Hardy Aligoté is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. Flavors run the gamut from floral to herbal.  

Domaine Ponsot produces the only premier cru Aligoté in Burgundy. Sourced from the Monts Luisants Premier Cru in Morey-Saint-Denis in the Côte de Nuits, it was planted in the early 1900s and still produces grapes from its vines today.   

Paul Wasserman, head of U.S. West Coast and Mountain State sales for Becky Wasserman & Co., likes Aligoté because its “energy and brightness gets you off the couch and dancing. It’s the Energizer Bunny of Burgundy.”  

Notable Producers: Domaine de Villaine, Domaine Ponsot, Dominique Lafon, Jérôme Galeyrand, Sylvain Pataille 

Cesar grape vine at Domaine Clotilde Davenne / Photo Courtesy Domaine Clotilde Davenne

César  

A cross between Pinot Noir and Argant, a Spanish variety, César is mostly grown in northwest Burgundy in the village of Irancy. Its origins date back at least 2,000 years.   

Rarely used as a single variety, it’s sometimes blended with Pinot Noir to add color because of its deep purple hue. Thick-skinned César is also incredibly tannic, so when it’s produced as a varietal wine, it’s done by carbonic maceration, a whole bunch fermentation in an anaerobic environment that makes the grapes ferment inside themselves to create light, fruit-forward wine.  

Notable Producer: Clotilde Davenne  

Harvested Gamay grapes in Beaujolais, France / Photo by Alamy

Gamay   

Beaujolais Nouveau, a red wine made from Gamay and released on the third Thursday in November immediately after harvest, is how many drinkers first experience Gamay. The grape is actually of Burgundian origin, from the Côte d’Or, and dates back to around 900 A.D. and the Cluny Abbey. In the late 1300s, the Duke of Burgundy ordered all Gamay vines to be removed for fear that it would overshadow the much nobler Pinot Noir.  

The Maconnais and Beaujolais didn’t get the memo, however, and continued to grow it. Now, the most famous versions of Gamay hail from those southerly regions.  

Gamay is a fairly thin-skinned grape like Pinot Noir, and it’s often compared to Pinot Noir in flavor and texture. And like Pinot Noir, it can develop complexity over time.   

Paul Grieco, sommelier and owner of New York City’s Terroir wine bar, is particularly fond of Burgundian Gamay. Julien Guillot’s Vignes du Mayne Cuvée 910 “is a piece of Burgundy I get out of bed in the morning for,” he says. 

Notable Producer: Julien Guillot  

Vineyard of Saint Bris Le Vineux near Auxerre / Photo by Hemis/Alamy

Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris 

Wines from the Appellation d’Origine Protegée (AOP) Saint-Bris, located around the village of Saint-Bris-le-Vineux, are made from Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris grapes. This is the only region in Burgundy where Sauvignon Blanc is allowed to grow. The village is much closer to the Loire Valley in proximity than it is to the heart of Burgundy, and is only nine miles away from Chablis, in the Côtes d’Auxerre region of Burgundy.   

Grapes are grown on limestone, much like the rest of Burgundy, and contribute a distinctive minerality to the appellation’s wines.   

Notable Producers: Clotilde Davenne, Guilhem & Jean-Hugues Goisot  

Bottling Chain, Louis Bouillot, Cremant de Bourgogne / Photo by Jean-Louis Bernuy

Crémant de Bourgogne   

An appellation as well as the name for the sparkling wines produced there, Crémant de Bourgogne is Burgundy’s answer to Champagne. Like Champagne, it is made in the laborious traditional method, methode traditionelle, and the dominant grapes are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, although a bit of Aligoté, Gamay or Pinot Blanc may sometimes be added for good measure. Also like Champagne, various styles abound for any palate predilection: sparkling rosé, Blanc de Blancs from Chardonnay, Aligoté or Pinot Blanc; or Blanc de Noirs made with Gamay and Pinot Noir.  

Notable Producers: Bailly Lapierre, Louis Boillot, Veuve Ambal  

Burgundy Embraces New Varieties to Combat Climate Change
Racking barrels at Domaine Michel Lafarge / Photo Courtesy Clothilde Lafarge

Passetoutgrains   

Passetoutgrains is made by blending and cofermenting Gamay and Pinot Noir into one well-priced, quaffable wine. Passetoutgrains is also an appellation in Burgundy, decreed in 1937. The area covers nearly the entirety of Burgundy, but Passetoutgrains production is mostly concentrated in the South, near the Mâcon and Beaujolais.   

French law dictates that Passetoutgrains must contain at least 30% Pinot Noir and 15% Gamay. Both red and rosé styles are made, and the rosé is made by the saignée method, whereby the red grape skins encounter the clear juice to produce a pink-hued wine.   

These days, there aren’t many coplanted vineyards, as they’re typically mapped out by single varieties or in blocks instead. But in one 2.2 acre plot owned by revered Burgundian producer Domaine Michel Lafarge, Gamay and Pinot Noir are indeed grown together and produced using traditional Passetoutgrains methods.   

Notable Producers: Domaine Michel Lafarge, Maison Louis Latour  

Published on April 30, 2021
Topics: Grape Basics