There are three types of wine lovers.
Casual drinkers don’t remember what wine we had with last night’s dinner, nor do we particularly care what wine we drink next, so long as it’s good, and cheap. Speak of violets, rose hips or blackcurrants in the glass, and we might take another sniff and smile politely.
Wine explorers invest more time, attention and money in our pursuit of the grape. We shun the mundane, everyday wines in search of obscure and unusual bottlings. We care less about a wine’s pedigree than about its character. We demand value — a quality that is not synonymous with cheapness — but we don’t define it in terms of point scores or name recognition. We relish a handcrafted local cabernet franc and celebrate an over-performing pinot grigio from Slovenia.
Wine aficionados demand only the best. We want the top Bordeaux, the exclusive Burgundies and small-grower champagnes, and we are willing and able to pay for them. We invest an inordinate amount of time and money in wine; we travel to wine regions and enjoy being on a first-name basis with our favorite winemakers. Don’t call us snobs, though: We are quite willing to share the bounty of our cellars with anyone who shows interest in, and appreciation for, our bottles.
You might have guessed that I identify with, and try to write for, all three groups. Yet my heart belongs with the explorers. I love to find wines from out-of-the-way regions, and underdog grapes that somehow seem to escape the market’s notice.
That’s why I love aligote.
Aligote is an explorer’s wine. It is the second white wine of Burgundy, after chardonnay, so it lacks cachet for aficionados, yet it’s hard to find and usually too expensive for casual drinkers. Some aligote is grown in Eastern Europe, and famed California winemaker Jed Steele produces an excellent example from Washington state grapes under his Shooting Star label. But Burgundy is its homeland, even if it is relegated not just to younger-sibling status but to distant-cousin-of-chardonnay. There are no Meursaults or Montrachets for aligote, just basic “Bourgogne Aligote” and a lowly-sounding appellation called Bouzeron.
In Burgundy’s white wine areas, aligote typically is grown on inferior vineyard sites at the tops of hills or in flatlands, leaving the prized slopes for chardonnay. The grape’s naturally high acidity can render the wine astringent, which is why in Burgundy aligote is often blended with a dash of black-currant liqueur to make an aperitif called kir.
The examples that reach our retail shelves don’t need such embellishment. It’s not really a wine for aging; currently available examples are from the 2008 and 2009 vintages. Later this summer, the 2010s should arrive. Enjoy these for their freshness as summer slips into fall.
Aligote has a pale-golden straw color and discreet floral aromas that hint of an acacia tree just out of sight in the next yard. The grape’s acidity gives the wine a lemony character, though because this is Burgundy there is richness as well: Think lemon curd, accented with the toastiness of roasted hazelnuts. I’ve seen this toasty character described as “warm croissant,” which gives the appealing image of wine with breakfast.
Or maybe that’s my fourth type of wine lover speaking.