French Kiss, Part Two: What is Aligoté?

The Wine of the Week: Olivier Leflaive Aligoté

by Annette Tomei

2015 Olivier Leflaive, Aligoté, Bourgogne, France

Think Chardonnay is the only white wine game in town in Burgundy? Think again. To overlook Aligoté as merely “the other white grape” is to miss out on a refreshing vivacious delight. So what is Aligoté? Well, for starters, it’s the second wine in our flight of French whites. And this particular Aligoté has quite the pedigree, yet it passionately embraces its individuality.

Aligoté has grown in Burgundy for over 200 years. It often plays a bit part as a blending grape for some Bourgogne Blanc, and to a greater extent in Crémant de Bourgogne. Bourgogne Aligoté is the designation given to all white wines made from this grape in the Burgundy region.

Fortunately, this grape is not as fussy about where it grows as some of its close relatives certainly are. It grows quite well in the Rhone Valley, as well as in Romania and Bulgaria. Wines made from this grape have a high level of acidity and pleasant floral aromas.

Olivier Leflaive is best known for Chardonnay, and is one of the most venerable producers in Puligny Montrachet. The Aligoté is from low yielding old vines in the Leflaive vineyards in nearby Muersault. Despite the premier address, this 100% Aligoté must be satisfied with the Bourgogne designation; only Chardonnay qualifies for the more honorable title.

About this Wine–What is Aligoté?

The 2015 vintage of the Olivier Leflaive Aligoté is one vintage back from the most recent offerings, so it has an extra year under its belt – for this particular wine, it seems to be a benefit. The aroma reflects some malo-lactic fermentation (a touch of creamy brie on the nose); also tangy buttery lemon curd. On the palate the astringent almost bitter (in a good way) flavors of lemon rind and big, fruity green extra virgin olive oil. The finish was medium-long and clean with some lingering minerality.

I mentioned good olive oil in the description of the flavor – it’s also a wonderful hint to pairing. This wine is a great partner for fresh green olives in bright peppery green olive oil, some Parmesan, and prosciutto. Also try with seared scallops, or even delicately smoked fish or oysters.

The Verdict

Because of the extra year of age, this wine was earthier than I expected. I was prepared for more citrus and stony minerals. It was a pleasant surprise–a more mature liveliness. Olivier Leflaive is a personal favorite for all things white Burgundy. If you haven’t discovered this for yourself yet, you must. The Aligoté is a wonderful entry point. The average price of about $20/bottle will ease the transition to their better known and higher priced offerings.

I hope you enjoyed wine two of three in our French Kiss flight, and that you will continue to join me over the next few weeks as we continue our summertime flight of fancy!

For more about where I enjoyed this and other flights, please visit here.

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