02 January 2011

aligoté perversity: drinking de moor at christmastime

In retrospect, it probably wasn't the most inspired decision to open the Aligoté first, among all the wines I'd brought to share with my friends' families in London. It was an academic decision, one that made sense internally - the next white was an ethereal dew-sweet cru Savennieres by Claude Papin, after all - but was in fact kind of a blunder in the exterior world of social propriety, where the occasion dictated that I open something rather more enjoyable first.

Even setting aside, for the moment, the difficulties of presenting any kind of wine to your average bunch of Brits, who as a people seem to submit to the habit of wine much as one submits to, say, yearly prostate examinations: Aligoté is, furthermore, a resoundingly dislikable grape. So much so that when several of those gathered professed to actually like Olivier et Alice de Moor's 2009 Bourgogne Aligoté, which I'd only brought out of perversity and haste, I was pleasantly stunned.

I chalked (ahem) it up to the peculiarities of the British palate,* and to the near-magical expertise of the de Moors, who I'm convinced are to Aligoté what Jenny Holzer is to LED lighting.

Protect Protect. 2009. Image swiped from psfk.com.

Alice and Olivier de Moor are Chablis natural vignerons based in the village of Courgis, who founded their estate in 1989, and who, in addition to various crus of Chablis, also produce a range of Aligotés, some deriving from vines over 100 years old.

Alice de Moor. She has sort of a Joyce Carol Oates vibe about her.

Aligoté, infamously, is Burgundy's Other White Grape. The one that is not Chardonnay: where Chardonnay is known for its inimitable signature fruit, Aligoté is known for not possessing said fruit, or even any very distinctive substitute trait. It's known for negative space, uncommunicativeness, inexpressibility - high acid, an un-nuanced chunk of minerality, and little else.

But, in rather the same spirit that in our lives we often continue to fruitlessly seek goodness in despicable people, sommeliers often have an abiding curiosity for Aligoté, which allures simply because it is so ungiving and inscrutable. I'd picked up the de Moors' 2009 Bourgogne Aligoté at Caves Augé the other day, aware that it would probably be a little joyless, mostly because I had very stirring memories of a terrific Aligoté I tasted, one of the de Moors', at the portfolio tasting of the snazzily-bespectacled wine agent Sylvie Chameroy, held at 4ème restaurant Les Cotelettes in early November.

It was an experimental 2009 bottling called "Réversibilité," subtitled 'last grapes & first frost': a late-harvest Aligoté. The geek in me went berserk, of course. It was densely mineral, and very slightly off-dry, with an overgrown wiry herbaciousness - Aligoté turned up to 11, or, in other words, actual audibility.

On Christmas day we drank just the basic Bourgogne Aligoté, but as I'd hoped, the de Moors' expertise was still very apparent in the wine's chiseled minerality, its singing brightness and clarity. What's more, people even liked it.

* Predisposed, perhaps, to things that are crisp, dry, and utterly no-nonsense.

Les Cotelettes
4, Impasse Guéménée
75004 PARIS
Metro: Bastille
Tel: 01 42 72 08 45

Caves Augé
116 Boulevard Haussmann
75008 PARIS
Metro: Saint Augustin
Tel: 01 45 22 16 97

Related Links:

Meeting Catherine Vergé at the AVN tasting held that same day in November
A Savoyard natural wine tasting at La Cave de l'Insolite, held that same day in November

A profile of the de Moors @ LouisDressner, their US importer
An atypically concise Alice et Olivier de Moor profile and tasting @ WineTerroirs
A hilariously wooden video tasting of one of de Moor's Aligotés by Lyle Fass @ OrganicWineJournal, in which M. Fass spends almost a full minute inexplicably bitching about wax caps.

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