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There’s something about an underdog. That is to say, some of us find ourselves rooting for the unlikeliest of heroes. In wine as much as we love the nobility of benchmark wines and appellations, we also find ourselves drawn to the charms of so-called lesser grapes. In Burgundy we find this especially true: while we are enamoured by the class of Vosne-Romanée or Chambolle-Musigny we can afford to enjoy the pleasures of a good Bourgogne Passetoutgrain with greater frequency. Likewise with Aligoté, the other white grape of Burgundy; we can enjoy the terroir of Burgundy without the tariff associated with the great whites from the region.
Aligoté (seen as an also-ran in Burgundy) has a long history within the region, though its stock has taken a hit since phylloxera ravaged the Cote d’Or. Once co-planted in fine terroirs, due to the vine’s difficult qualities (it is late-ripening, it needs 15 years before producing quality fruit, and requires very low yields to express terroir) the grape was deemed unattractive when replanting.
Where it was replanted, it was typically overcropped leading to a sharp and somewhat insipid wine which often needed doctoring in the form of cassis. Luckily a few vignerons were farsighted enough to see the value of a vine whose wines could be snappy expressions of minerality. In the hands of De Moor, Ponsot, Roulot, and Aubert de Villaine the variety shines, producing lithe, taut wines of stony purity.
One of our favorite producers Domaine Chevrot makes just such a wine from 50-year-old wines in Maranges. Chevrot’s Bourgogne Aligote ‘Tilleul’ comes from a
.35 hectare plot that is farmed organically, worked by horse, and hand-harvested. The grapes are fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged for 15 months in Burgundy barrels. The resulting wine balances texture and tension as there is plenty of mineral cut to enliven the old vine richness. There is depth and complexity here with layers of citrus, cool-toned herbs, hints of honey, and a nearly saline minerality—all the dimension of other white Burgundy without the steep price tag. This is a wine for the table which will enliven richer fish dishes, sushi or sashimi, and pair admirably with other Asian cuisines and poultry. John McIlwain
From a .35 HA parcel of organically farmed 51-year-old vines just opposite of the property. The 2013 Domaine Chevrot Bougogne Tilleuls is a lovely old vine expression of Aligoté. The plot is farmed organically with the soils worked by horse, the fermentation and aging is in barrel with native yeasts. An Aligoté to cellar, the wine is coiled and nervy with citrus and herbal notes leading on the nose followed by hints of sea spray. The palate is densely mineral and textured with stony acidity and bright Meyer lemon fruit on the attack and a long richly earthy finish. This is lovely and will age beautifully as well as pair with denser fish such as halibut or better still, some sea scallops from Blue Moon Fish with braised greens, citrus segments, brown butter, capers. -John McIlwain