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For decades Aligoté has had something of an image problem. Short, sharp, and shocking in its acidity when farmed for high yields in indifferent terrior, it was viewed as a rustic country wine more suitable for a kir (softened with a scandalous amount of cassis,) than for the table. Yet, as a recent article by Eric Asimov, and a series of articles from a few years ago by the astute Alice Feiring remind us, there’s plenty of nobility to the grape in the right hands and terroir. Far from producing a bland, tart wine, Aligoté can articulate a compelling sense of minerality, provided the vines are old, the yields are restricted, and the vineyard sites are conducive to quality.
And perhaps nowhere are the sites more conducive that the recently created (1998) Aligoté-only appellation of Bouzeron in the Côte Chalonnaise. Here a predominance of the lower-yielding, aromatic Aligoté-Doré cultivar grown in poor hillside soils of clay and limestone displays the grape’s gift for expressing minerality. Were there a “grand cru” for the variety, one suspects it would be centered on the hillsides of Bouzeron. And if there is a grower whose wines exemplify the nobility of the grape when grown and vinified with care, it is Domaine A. & P. de Villaine, owned by famed co-owner and director of Domaine Romanée Conti, Aubert de Villaine.
Farming of the 23 hecatres is certified organic. Fermentation is with native yeasts in a combination of tank and wood, aging on its lees. The wine offers a fine combination of kinetic acidity and vibrant fruit, which can be enjoyed in its youth for freshness and vivacity, or aged for 5-10 years to allow the inherent minerality to come to the fore. While a fine aperitif, de Villaine’s Bouzeron shines with a plate of oysters, goat cheese, or the local charcuterie, jambon persillé. With a bit of time in the cellar, crab, lobster salad, or aged cheeses will pair beautifully. John McIlwain
If there's a "grand cru" for the Aligoté grape it is probably in the appellation of Bouzeron. And Domaine A & P de Villaine produces one of best. The low-yielding, aromatic Aligoté d'Or grapes are farmed organically, pressed gently, and fermented in tank and oak casks. Bright and vibrant on the nose with aromas of Meyer lemon peel and white peach, sea spray, and crushed herbs. Chalky and briny on the palate, great cut, with perhaps more yellow stone-fruits than citrusy white fruit on the palate with a long, sapid, lip-smacking finish. Enjoy now for the fresh, lucent fruit or cellar for 5-7 years to allow the minerality to assert itself. Makes a fine pairing with pan-roasted black bass fillet and salsa verde or young goat's milk cheeses. John McIlwain