Beneath the warm sun of a June afternoon, Sylvain Pataille bends down to inspect a cluster of Aligoté grapes. Pushing his blond curls behind his ear, he gently palms the green-skinned fruit, checking for development and signs of disease—an especially pressing concern for a grower who farms organic and biodynamic vineyards. “Bon!” he declares.
Pataille’s vines grow in the commune of Marsannay-la-Côte, in Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits. International wine drinkers tend to associate Marsannay with budget-friendly chardonnay and pinot noir, but when Pataille got his start as a winemaker two decades ago, he had to pursue even less expensive grapes. “When I created [Domaine Sylvain Pataille], the vines I could afford were gamay and Aligoté,” he explains. “They were hard to sell. No one wanted them.”
Aligoté is planted widely in Burgundy and is often used as a blending grape in sparkling wine, but as a primary grape it has long been shunned in favor of nobler chardonnay. Much of its poor reputation can be chalked up to the ubiquitous Aligoté vert, a high-yield strain that produces simple wines. Pataille, however, bottles Aligoté doré, a “golden” varietal that has a nervy, electric energy comparable to riesling or chenin blanc. He’s leading the charge for a growing cadre of vintners who are producing single-vineyard Aligoté, and those bottles are finding favor among sommeliers and open-minded drinkers seeking cost-effective Burgundy wines.
A 30-minute drive south of Pataille’s property, past the famous pinot noir appellations of Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits-Saint-Georges and outside the city of Beaune, sits Domaine Chanterêves, where Tomoko Kuriyama and her husband, Guillaume Bott, make five Aligotés. “We like working with Aligoté because it produces wines with real terroir definition,” says Kuriyama, who also extols the grape’s climate resilience—thanks to its slow ripening period and acid retention—and resistance to disease.
In Courgis, 90 minutes northwest of Chanterêves and just south of Chablis, Alice and Olivier De Moor produce cellar-worthy Aligotés, with Olivier hand-painting the labels on their eponymous bottles. Like their contemporaries, the De Moors champion organic farming and minimalist winemaking; Olivier even recently penned an open letter to Burgundy’s winemakers calling for the creation of ecological corridors to combat the effects of climate change on viticulture.
These operations are small and require appointments to visit, but they’re growing in stature, and they’ve banded together to form a group, L’Association des Aligoteurs, to continue raising their profile.
“There were always great Aligotés, but it took a sizable group of them for the world to notice,” says Paul Wasserman, co-director of U.S. sales for Becky Wasserman & Co., which imports both Domaine Chanterêves and Pataille’s wines. “Now Aligoté’s having a party, and everyone is invited.”