August 21, 2016


Aligoté can hardly be considered as a rare variety; with plantings spanning close to 50,000 hectares, this frost-hardy, cool-to-temperate climate grape variety is among the most planted varieties in the world. However, the thing with Aligoté is that it is planted only to a limited extent in France (some 1,900 ha) while the rest of the plantings are found in Eastern Europe, mainly in Moldova (15,800 ha), Ukraine (9,600 ha) and Romania (7,200 ha). As wines from these countries – or Burgundy, for that matter – are rarely exported, Aligoté is a rare occurrence in the international wine market, aimed mainly for local consumption.

The birthplace of Aligoté is somewhere in or near Burgundy, as its parents are Pinot and Gouais Blanc (the parents of Chardonnay, Gamay and Melon de Bourgogne as well, making Aligoté a sibling of these varieties), two grape varieties historically cultivated in the region. Aligoté is known for its remarkably high acid levels and usually thin, lemony flavors; this is why usually fruitier, less acidic and overall more balanced Chardonnay is planted in the best sites in Burgundy, whereas Aligoté is planted in the less prestigious sites in the top and bottom parts of hills. Historically these varieties have been cultivated together as interplanted field blends, where Aligoté's bright acidity would complement Chardonnay's bigger body and fruitier character, but as Chardonnay started to command higher prices, monovarietal Chardonnay vineyards became the norm. A great majority of France's Aligoté is planted in Burgundy (over 1,700 ha) while some plantings can be found also outside Burgundy, mainly scattered around the Rhône wine region.

As Aligoté normally produces simple, tart and lemony wine with thin body and high acidity, it has never gained great popularity, which is why it is mainly drunk locally and rarely exported. A traditional French way to make Aligoté more drinkable is to add a little amount of créme de cassis, blackcurrant liqueur, to the wine to give it more flavor and mask some of the acidity with the liqueur's high sugar, creating a Kir cocktail. The greatest problem Aligoté faces is that it is a prisoner of its reputation; however, some of the producers in Burgundy have showed that by planting the variety in better sites, restricting yields and letting the variety reach a suitable degree of ripeness, it can create wines of remarkable quality – yet still many producers and consumers alike tend to shun away from the variety. Hopefully, as the greatest Aligoté wines start to gain recognition, the variety will receive more acceptance in the future.

One of the biggest recent moves towards the wider recognition of Aligoté is the creation of AOC Bouzeron in 1998. This village in the Côte Chalonnaise wine region (the large subregion under Côte de Nuits, the famed heart of Burgundy) has been producing Aligoté wines for a long time, and finally in the late 1990's, with the aid of Aubert de Villaine – the co-owner of the world-famous Domaine de la Romanée-Conti – this appellation exclusively for Aligoté was created.

Outside Bouzeron, there are also a handful of producers who vehemently believe in the quality and in the potential of well-made Aligoté. These producers in- and outside of Bouzeron can create magnificent Aligoté wines ranging from typical light and acid-driven whites with remarkable depth and steely minerality, to more concentrated and fuller-bodied examples with more fruit, weight and heft normally unseen in wines made from this variety. Typically even the better Aligotés from Burgundy still tend to be lighter than the region's Chardonnays and they are usually aged in stainless steel tanks or old, neutral barrels, letting the varietal characteristics stay on the fore. Though rarely considered to be of any importance in Burgundy, Aligoté's light, refreshingly acid-driven and more restrained style has given Aligoté some attention amongst the sommeliers and other winos who are looking for new, trendy and versatile wine styles.

Claire Naudin "Le Clou 34" 2012
Vin de France
  • Domaine Naudin-Ferrand
  • Country: France
  • Region: Burgundy, Côte de Nuits
  • Grape(s): Aligoté (100%)
  • Price: ~16,50€ / 0,75 l
  • Tasted on: January 3rd, 2015

This wine here does not come from the aforementioned Bouzeron, but instead from the actual heart of world-famed Burgundy wines, Côte des Nuits. The vineyards where the wine is sourced from are located in the AOC Côte des Nuits Villages appellation, but as the wine is very atypical for a white Burgundy, it is declassified as Vin de France.

The wine is produced by Domaine Naudin-Ferrand, a small artisanal producer that can trace its viticultural roots back to the 16th century and the current winery has been located in its current place since 1892. The winery has been spearheaded by Claire Naudin, and under her control, the winery has turned stylistically to a more natural approach. Yields are very restricted, vineyards are cultivated organically and treated as living ecosystems, ideals of sustainable agriculture are followed, and whereas some wines are vinified with the philosopohy minimum intervention and with only very low (20–30 mg/l) sulfite additions, some wines are vinified completely naturally with totally hands-free approach and no sulphites. Claire Naudin has made the choice not to certify the winery organic, as she wants to have a freedom of choice: she thinks that in bad scenarios is better to use minuscule amounts of very effective synthetic weed, pest and fungus control agents instead of less effective organic ones.

Naudin-Ferrand has become famed especially for their unique Aligotés; whereas many other growers have pulled off their Aligoté plantings to make room for economically more viable Chardonnay, Naudin-Ferrand have obstinately held on to their Aligoté plantings, which are now among some of the oldest ones in the whole Burgundy. Clou 34, the plot that is the main source for this wine, is planted in 1934, but in some vintages grapes are also sourced from plots La Croix (planted in 1953), Castaings (1936) and Vallerot (1902). This wine is made completely organically: both the alcoholic fermentation and the malolactic fermentation occurred naturally, the wine has received no additions whatsoever, it was bottled unfiltered and unfined and no sulfites were used at any point. Annual production is less than 3,000 bottles.

With its hazy, green-tinted yellow color, the wine is obviously unfiltered.

The nose is utterly delightful, vibrant and expressive with crisp and intense, fruit-forward aromas of sweet lemony citrus fruit, sunny flower meadows, red apple, some leesy notes and a hint of grapefruit.

The intense taste follows the nose with intense green apple and grapefruit-dominant citrus fruit flavors, supported by saline minerality and some leesy notes. Overall the palate is juicy, concentrated and really energetic with its pronounced, crisp acidity.

The finish is really crisp, tart and acid-driven with flavors of wet stone minerality, lime-driven citrus fruit, tart Granny Smith apple and some grassy greenness. The aftertaste is very long, precise and focused with pronounced acidity.

Overall Le Clou 34 is an incredibly impressive example of a complex, pure and focused Aligoté with remarkable concentration and well-balanced structure. As it is a good example of completely hands-off winemaking, it might not be the first pick for people who enjoy their wines crystal-clear and squaky-clean; however those, who are looking for unique, high-quality examples of honest, pure wines, this is an extremely recommended effort. It is hands down one of the loveliest white Burgundies I've had in a while, and probably the best non-Chardonnay Burgundy white I've ever had. At 16,50€ its QPR is incredible.

For those who doubt Aligoté's potential for making high-quality wines, Le Clou 34 can be a revelation. It is a wine of remarkable depth, complexity and concentration, but not without the typical acidity and brightness of the variety.

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