"...mid-stride beneath weaving canopies, the suppressed humidity and fog of weighted dew droplets sway; a slash, a whip of light cracks nearby, every movement and waver to wake the blink, the glare of a constantly open eye; found hugged within a earthen dimple, surrounded by stray blades under an unwavering stoic ray - what lays is a charm, an enchanting glass apple amidst the authentic natural mimics; fixated, a minute alone and moving on..."
So to clear the air, I'm not too familiar with the varietal, having had maybe two or three that I can remember in all my years behind the glass (and that's being generous) it's not one I bookmark or can say diverted my energies enough to hunt down a few more, until now. Aligote is one of those varietals that one rarely sees, hears or touches. I mean, considering the big names out there like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling, this isn't exactly something you're going to know to look for or know what to expect unless you're in the know. It's also not exactly the most obscure grape out there in the wine world, not like Txakoli or Bukettraube, but nevertheless isn't usually the first glass asked for at a bar.
I always expect that each grape will have a rich almost enigmatic history, but much of the information on this varietal's history is pretty generic: Aligote most famously originates from Burgundy, being a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc (the originator of many of our favorite varietals), and has its roots stretching as far back as the 12th century; the grape is known for being cold tolerant and quite high in acidity and because of that acidity lends great structure to other wines like Chardonnay where it is blended in the Bourgogne Aligote AOC (up to 15%), or even with cassis to make a kir, though, as I continue to research, I'm beginning to think some segment of the wine drinking community has relegated this difficult varietal to the peripheries and uses the suggestion of mixing this wine into a kir as a slur and a reason not to invest in its future. Regardless, these wines are out there, perhaps there isn't enough awareness, maybe people need a "Summer of Riesling" experience with this varietal in order to trumpet its potential for greatness prying our focus away from Chardonnay for a bit to welcome this much scorned cousin.
Aligote stretching from Eastern Europe where it is mostly used to make sparkling wine and to Washington State. In it's homeland of Burgundy only about 6% is under vine and much of that territory has been dictated to the poorer sites and hill tops part and parcel for the reason is from phylloxera in the late 19th century which wiped out most vineyards. Many growers replanted with Chardonnay because it was more productive and commanded a higher price point with only a few replanting Aligote knowing that it could make, if treated right, equally exquisite wines. Strangely, another part of the reason (and one in which I wish I knew the inner politics of) is that in 1937 the Bourgogne Aligote AOC was created to put focus on this varietal only for it to be banished to these nether regions leading to substantial marginalization and today's lack of knowledge.
For proprietors Nadine and Remi Marcillet, located in the Cote-d'Or - specifically in Fussey - their vines stretch over 10 hectares across the Hautes-Cotes de Beaune, Hautes-Cotes de Nuits, Savigny-les-Beaune and the Chorey-les Beaune, which means that much of their wines are centered on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with a little Aligote. To be considered AOC Bourgogne Aligote the grapes can come from anywhere in Burgundy, compared with the AOC Bouzeron-Aligote in the Cote Chalonnaise which was created to give this varietal center stage on the best slopes and where the wines can only be 100% Aligote.
In effect this post was born in two waves: the first while preparing some food for dinner where I had this orphaned bottle from the day before (now on its second day) retrieved from the refrigerator and though not particularly struck by it at first, day two wasn't being any more complacent - this one wasn't giving up any of it's secrets. If there were ever an austere wine (maybe arrested is a better word?) this might be it; not exactly devoid of expression with its vague hints of apple, pear and wet grassy-on-top soil notes and simply dominating sense of being -the body and acidity doing itself in- it remained at a distance like trying to capture the taste of a tasteless object knowing that within there was something flavorful at its center.
The two main components of this wine - the acidity and the body - are a conjoined force, united in shaping the wine to the determent of the other components; the body is substantial (perhaps oaked?) slightly dulling out the acidity, but acidity is never really muted just pushed as far to the edge and diffused throughout; imagine sucking on a glass marble like a lozenge, rolling it around, getting a feel for its slick exterior with the subtle undulations in its manufactured spherical shape as you contemplate the ever more so subtle hints quietly seeping out of it yet never really getting the full experience: that inner core where slight apple, pear and a little sun baked grass and earth seep out, caught in the thickness of the body, dragged down by the weight and then trapped finally by the acid remaining at the exterior leaving you with a queer hint of something more expressive, something a bit inconsistent triggering your continued curiosity into the next whiff and sip, something that began to swiftly scissor against the interior of the exterior, wearing away the hardness, allowing bits and pieces free. Throughout I kept on trying to get this hardened exterior to crack open to no real avail, sniffing through that curious halo of funk that joined in at some point with the hardened mineral-metallic exterior. I recognized this hauntingly questionable trait that some accept and others turn away: volatile acidity. It wasn't exceptionally present, as I said, there was a hint of it along the edge, itself caught in the gravity of its own body and only after a few glasses in made me question the stability of this wine. I wonder, would a few more years rest or even allowed to breath for another day or two allow it to show differently, or would it unravel in the volatility simmering beneath? As perhaps an aspect of wine that I am never quite sure is on purpose or an unfortunate accident, this factor, like all the others, is best mitigated alongside the other components. In a sense this wine accomplishes just that except in total you're left with a quirked head and lack of inspiration.
The second phase occurred the prior weekend where I spent the remainder of my Sunday March 30th painting on a much larger scale than usual. This gave a lot more room for gestures to take off rather than working on my 10" x 10" canvases whose main purpose was for easy scanning for the this blog. It took another week for me to get back around to this post and hash out my thoughts. Perhaps I'll have to post some of the sketches when I can't quite reach the level of oil on canvas? I'm pretty content with the way this image turned out, it succeeds at the spherical centered presence that the wine impresses upon me, the scissoring of the body (a sort of weighted laden blue-grayish due to the acidity) and towards the end of it's second day letting loose more of that volatility. I only wish I had some silver paint so I could really embellish the left and right lower sides to really hit home the intensity of the metallic minerality/acidity that characterizes this wines very defined being.
I'll save more experiments for the following posts whole I hunt for more Aligote...
Winery: Domaine Nadine et Remi Marcillet
Varietal: 100% Aligote
Importer: Savio Soares Selections