Jacky Young is co-proprietor (with her husband Jim Young) and director of wine making for St. Helena based Young Inglewood Vineyards where a precious one-third acre is dedicated to growing Aligoté.
Jacky is a self-avowed “Burgundy nut” and planted this block with Aligoté (as is often done in Burgundy) because she knew Chardonnay would not do well on their site. The first vintage produced in 2015 was a mere 10 cases from 3-year-old vines where she “hand-squeezed” the grapes as the quantity was too small for the mechanical press. A true labor of love!
A couple weeks ago, Jacky invited a group of industry professionals to taste a range of Aligotés from California, Oregon and across Burgundy. Jacky proved a deft organizer and conducted the tasting in an informal, but structured, format where each flight, served blind, had a theme and the selection included some of the world’s most revered Aligoté producers.
Flight One (four wines) represented Burgundy’s “Haut-producers” exhibiting more varietal typicity from four different vintages – 2011 through 2016. Flight Two (three wines) showed varying stylistic impressions from the same (2017) vintage. Flight Three (four wines) paired two notable Burgundian producers with recent and library vintages from each ranging from 1995 to 2015.
Attending the tasting were a highly regarded Napa winemaker with a master’s degree in viticulture from the University of Burgundy Aaron Pott; noted viticulturist and winemaker Steve Mathiason with his wife and partner Jill; Hill Family Estate and Oak Knoll Farming principle Doug Hill; Young Inglewood winemaker Scott Young; Burgundy aficionado Josh Shapiro from San Francisco’s Flatiron Wines and Carolyn Scheinberg of the Crenn Restaurant Group in San Francisco.
Together, under the able guidance of Jacky we tasted, discussed and appreciated the opportunity to sample a range of Aligotés, each expressing its individual character and stylistic impression.
As we gathered at Young Inglewood, we were treated to the beautiful and just-released 2018 Young Inglewood Aligoté, representing their fourth vintage with production rising to a whopping 50 cases. The wine is a true expression of the best characteristics the grape has to offer. Bracing acidity, intense minerality, complex citrus flavors and accompanying tropical notes. A great introduction to the delights ahead.
When the conversation turns to Burgundy, two varietals will immediately come to mind: Pinot Noir for reds and Chardonnay for whites, with the individual growing areas most often determining the stylistic character of the finished wine. A Chardonnay, for example, from Meursault will be very different than one produced by the same Domaine but sourced from another appellation such as Chassagne-Montrachet. A similar example would hold true for Pinot Noirs from Chambertin and Échezeaux.
While the focus for Burgundian whites remains Chardonnay, there are also small plantings of other varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris in the Saint-Bris AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) near Chablis in the north and Aligoté, primarily grown in Bouzeron in Côte Chalonnais in the south.
Bouzeron was elevated to AOC status in 1997, largely due to the advocacy of Aubert de Villain (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti) and is the only AOC in Burgundy devoted to Aligoté. The wines produced here are entitled to use the appellation name on the label, but the grape is also found in other areas throughout Burgundy where it must be labeled with the lesser status of Bourgogne Aligoté without the appellation identity.
In contrast, Chardonnay grown in Bouzeron takes a second position and must be labeled as Bourgogne Côte Chalonnais or simply as Bourgogne Blanc without that area’s AOC designation.
Aligoté is Burgundy’s second most planted white varietal, yet with just 15 percent of planted acreage it is far behind its more glamorous sister. With its relatively high acidity, it is widely used as a blending grape for Crémant de Bourgogne, the sparkling wine of Burgundy made in the Méthode Traditionnelle, and is the base wine for the famous Kir cocktail where it’s mixed with Crème de Cassis and enjoyed as an aperitif before the meal.
As we tasted through the flights and the wines were revealed after thorough discussion, I was amazed to see the range of Burgundian producers whose names are more often associated with the upper echelon of Grand Cru selections. Leroy, de Villaine, Ramonet, Roget, Ponsot and Coche-Dury were all represented as well as Sylvain Pataille (known as the “Father” of Aligoté and founder of the Aligoteurs support group). From the U.S., we sampled the wines of Calera in the Gavilan Hills near Monterey, California and Gamine from the new Elkton Oregon AVA sub-appellation to the state’s Umpqua AVA.
Two clones of Aligoté are grown in France and elsewhere. The lower yielding, elegant and more expressive Aligoté Doré is the only clone found in Bouzeron while the more vigorous and less complex Aligoté Vert is grown in other areas of France. However, the finest Burgundian producers growing Aligoté in the more prestigious areas outside of Bouzeron generally lean toward Aligoté Doré for its classic style.
In reviewing my notes, I find descriptors such as balance, structure, bright, elegant, citrus, mineral and tropical along with an occasional reference to spice and mint associated with my favorite (and I believe the most stylistically representative) examples.
A few others displayed a deeper tone with oxidative notes on the nose and heavier white pitted-fruit and melon flavors on the palate. Could this be in part a result of the clonal difference, Doré vs. Vert?
Overall, I also found the younger wines showed better than those with more age except for the 2006 Coche-Dury Bourgogne Aligoté that had taken on a robe of excellence with a decade or so in the bottle.
I must thank Jacky not only for including me in this most informative tasting experience but also for my original introduction to Aligoté during a visit to Young Inglewood early in 2017 where I was able to taste the 2015 and purchase the 2016. I’ve been a fan ever since!