I love Burgundy. Of the world’s prestigious wine regions, it is probably my favorite, assuming we’re using the conventional France-Italy-Northern California axis of prestige in this conversation. French Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Bourgogne are, simply, put among the best wines of their type in the world. Nowhere else does Chardonnay reach the heights achieved in Burgundy and, although there are New World regions challenging Burgundian Pinot Noir in quality, they have yet to achieve the consistency and the breadth seen in France.
But this post isn’t about that Burgundy, it’s about the other Burgundy, where two vestigial grapes still bounce around on a few hectares and where a boom in sparkling wine production is producing bubblies that rival its neighbor to the north.
First, there’s Aligote, Chardonnay’s cold-tolerant, early-ripening stepbrother that fills up the lesser plots of more prestigious vineyard sites, its relative resilience to cold helping it survive and thrive where Chardonnay’s more delicate sensibilities would cause that grape to falter. A combination of steadily climbing Chardonnay prices and a general increased interest in France’s Other Grapes has seen an increase in Aligote being exported to the US. The wines are light and high-acid, tasting of tart apples and ripe lemon. They make an excellent aperitif (in fact, the classic wine aperitif cocktail, the Kir, is traditionally made with Aligote) and pairs excellently with fish and light chicken or pasta dishes. Though the “Bourgogne Aligote AOC” is where the values lie, seek out a Bouzeron AOC to taste the purest expression of this grape.
Although Red Burgundy is virtually synonymous with Pinot Noir, it is not the only red grape to be found in Burgundy. We’ll ignore the fact that the red wines of Beaujolais made from the Gamay grape are, politically speaking, also Burgundians, and instead point your attention to the Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains AOC. These wines made from Gamay with up to a third Pinot Noir blended in can be produced throughout Burgundy and are made into fresh, fruit-driven red wines that are more playful than Burgundy from the more pretigious AOCs but with more weight than the 100% Gamay wines of Beaujolais. While not the easiest wines to find, most larger import-focused wine shops should have at least one available. It’s an excellent wine for meatier fish (salmon or tuna, perhaps), grilled chicken and grilled vegetables, or pork tenderloin.
The north of Burgundy borders the south of Champagne and the sparkling wines of Burgundy are made from some of the same grapes as Champagne: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in particular. Burgundy’s relatively warmer weather means the wines are not as crisp and delicate as Champagne, but their fuller fruit flavors, particularly from their rose wines, make Cremant de Bourgogne my second-favorite French sparkling and, at prices for unique grower-producer wines half that of entry-level negociant Champagnes, they are an infinitely better value. Although there are very good Cremant found throughout France (Cremant is a term for all non-Champagne sparkling wines from France made in the traditional method), the Cremant de Bourgogne comes the closest to matching the elegance of Champagne.
So if you, like almost everybody, find the prices of Burgundy from the most esteemed AOCs putting them solidly in the “gift” or “very very special occasion” categories, seek out these alternatives for a unique take on the other Burgundy, a place where playful, easy-drinking wines do exist. They’re the types of wines you imagine winery workers drinking at the end of a hard day spent producing the more “serious” wines of the region and, perhaps, secretly enjoying a whole lot more.