Have you tried Aligoté?

If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a white grape grown in small quantities in France’s Burgundy. And though it plays second fiddle to King Chardonnay in what is arguably the world’s most famous and exclusive wine region, Bourgogne Aligoté, as it’s called there, is well worth getting to know.

There are several reasons why Bourgogne Aligoté should be on your radar. For one, it produces distinctively un-Chardonnay wines. I think of it as somewhere between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in texture, taste, and mouthfeel — fresh, fruity, with lively acidity, usually unencumbered by much oak, and ready to drink relatively quickly.

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Second, many of Burgundy’s top producers grow it as an adjunct to their Chardonnays in some of the region’s most storied appellations. Whereas the Chardonnays typically take the name of the places where the vineyards lie — Meursault or Montrachet, for example — Bourgogne Aligoté is the appellation for the wines wherever they come from in Burgundy. (One exception is Aligoté wines from the Bouzeron appellation, named for the village in the Côte Chalonnaise and considered among the finest examples of the variety.)

You might typically see a couple of bottles of Bourgogne Aligoté in larger wine stores, often on the bottom shelves of the white Burgundy sections. And while these wines have asterisk status in Burgundy, those familiar with them know that they can provide outstanding value.

Among those who appreciated this was the late Becky Wasserman, the legendary Burgundy exporter and promoter (one “Becky Wasserman Selection” is in the list below). At a dinner at her home in Burgundy in 2017, with a range of memorable white and red Burgundies, I remember asking her what she bought for everyday drinking. “At the moment, we’re buying — begging — for a case of Aligoté” from one of her favorite producers, she told me. “It’s just delicious, and we can drink it right away.”

That may be Aligoté at its essence: delicious, accessible, and relatively affordable. The $25 to $40 range seems to be its sweet spot, a far cry from many Chardonnay-based Burgundies, which have such rarefied status that many now command far higher prices (with the exceptions of those simply labeled “Bourgogne” and wines from the Mâconnais sub-region of southern Burgundy).

There is new interest in Bourgogne Aligoté, which used to be mostly relegated to the wine base for the Kir cocktail that combines dry white wine with crème de cassis. The six wines below are among the best and show us why Bourgogne Aligoté stands on its own. (Pro tip: The flavors will be more vivid if you don’t drink them too cold.)

Domaine du Cellier aux Moines Bourgogne Aligoté ‘Sous Les Roches’ 2020

Domaine du Cellier aux Moines Bourgogne Aligoté 'Sours Les Roches' 2020 is one of the best Bourgogne Aligotés from Burgundy.

Cellier aux Moines, which traces its roots in Givry to Cistercian monks in the 12th century, was “reborn” when the Pascal family purchased the domaine in 2004. Its old-vine Aligoté (planted on a hill in Montagny in 1945), is refreshing and complex, with green apple, almond, lemon-lime, and sage notes infused with touches of cream, minerals, and perfect balancing acidity. It all combines in a wine marked by smooth elegance.

Price: $35
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Maison Chanzy Bouzeron ‘Les Trois’ 2017

Maison Chanzy Bouzeron 'Les Trois' 2017 is one of the best Bourgogne Aligotés from Burgundy.

This is a beautiful and subtle wine at a great value. It also gives us a taste of Aligoté with a few years or so of bottle age (definitely worth it). There is oak in this wine, but rather than defining it, it enhances the wine and shows that Aligoté does well with judicious use of barrel aging. Clean and precise, with floral, mineral, apricot, and spice notes, and a hint of green olive.

Price: $27
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Domaine Chevrot Bourgogne Aligoté ‘Cuvée des Quatre Terroirs’ 2020

Domaine Chevrot Bourgogne Aligoté 'Cuvée des Quatre Terroirs' 2020 is one of the best Bourgogne Aligotés from Burgundy.

Flinty, floral, and spicy, this light-to-medium-bodied wine shows pear, kiwi, lime, and mandarin notes with accents of white pepper and ginger. A touch of cream coats the mouth on the back end in this lovely example of Aligoté, produced from organically grown grapes and made entirely in stainless steel. In this wine and several others, I found that the flavors were more vivid a day or so after opening; they will easily keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

Price: $27
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Aligoté ‘Raisins Dorés’ 2020

Domaine Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Aligoté 'Raisins Dorés' 2020 is one of the best Bourgogne Aligotés from Burgundy.

Candied apple, lychee, mandarin, and Meyer lemon flavors are the fruit core of this superb Aligoté from a top producer. There’s a bit of creaminess and a hint of smoke on the finish. Grown in clay and limestone soils, the grapes are certified organic and biodynamic. The wine is fermented in stainless-steel tanks and receives a few months or so of aging in older (more neutral) barrels.

Price: $37
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Pierre Morey Bourgogne Aligoté 2020

Pierre Morey Bourgogne Aligoté 2020 is one of the best Bourgogne Aligotés from Burgundy.

From a well-known producer in Meursault, this refreshing wine reminded me on first taste of biting into a slightly tart apple. Bursting with fresh fruit flavors, including white peach, lemon-lime, and a touch of strawberry, there are also hints of almond and herbs. Lots of minerality here and a slightly creamy layer on the finish.

Price: $28
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Bruno Colin Bourgogne Aligoté 2020

Bruno Colin Bourgogne Aligoté 2020 is one of the best Bourgogne Aligotés from Burgundy.

Bruno Colin’s Aligoté vines are planted within the Chassagne-Montrachet appellation, and with a little swirling in the glass and warming up from the fridge, the wine opens up to reveal a beautifully balanced Aligoté dominated by citrus, herbs, and minerals. Subtle flavors of Bosc pear, orange, and almond are accented by a touch of vanilla and a slightly briny note. This is one that grew on me.

Price: $35
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Next up: Beaujolais under $25