A Wine of Note: Les Frères Dutruy (Founex, La Côte, Vaud)

Aligoté, Expression de Terroir 2015, Les Frères Dutruy, La Côte, Vaud

Aligoté, for the most part, is a wine that deserves the scant attention it receives. In its ancestral home, the vineyards of Burgundy, it’s usually relegated to the poorer sites not worthy of chardonnay or pinot noir. Such indignities, and anemic aligotés from elsewhere, serve to institutionalize its mediocrity. But as anyone who’s ever had a leisurely lunch in Beaune can tell you—at the table, aligoté can often out charm its more famous rivals. How is that possible? Quick answer: Aligoté in the right hands and treated with the proper respect can be a force to reckon with.

Recently, New York Times wine writer, Eric Asimov, journeyed to Burgundy to discover more about this deprived step-child. His conclusion: great winemakers there respect its place in their vineyards and have no plans to root it out. As proof he cites a notable roster of Burgundy elites who walk the walk — Roulot, Coche-Dury, Lafarge and Aubert de Villaine—serious players all, but humble in their roots-based admiration for the local kid. It’s the closest thing Burgundy has to an everyday indulgence.

And just to prove there is an exception to every rule, there is even an aristocrat in the bunch: Domaine Ponsot’s idiosyncratic premier cru vineyard Mont Luisants located in the village of Morey-St. Denis is partially devoted to aligoté and made famous because of it. Well cellared examples of this unique cuvée are proof positive that aligoté can soar with the high flyers.

It’s not as if aligoté comes from impoverished stock. It’s a natural cross between pinot and the serial co-progenitor of robust offspring, gouais blanc. Its siblings include the noble chardonnay, the rambunctious gamay and the coquettish romorantin, among others. Its estimated point of origin is the late 18th century in the Saône Valley near Mâcon. Thus, a Burgundy native through and through.

Aligoté’s short trip up the hill to Geneva occurred in the early 20th century. It was introduced there by vigneron Jules Dupraz on what is now the Domaine des Curiades in the vineyard clad suburb of Lully. From there it migrated to Valais where, according to legend, it proved to be an unworthy replacement for Johnnisberg (sylvaner). Today it is scarcely visible in Switzerland except in Geneva where the bulk of its twenty-four hectares are located.

Ironically, aligoté’s first appearance in Vaud didn’t occur until the mid-1970s and even then it was just a short hop across the cantonal border into the village of Founex. There the Dutruy family planted the preferred Doré clone in their La Treille parcel where it has persisted ever since. Persists may be the wrong word. It actually thrives in the deep gravel and limestone soils of the western reaches of La Côte.

The Dutruy aligoté is organically farmed and hand-harvested before a traditional fermentation in stainless steel cuves. A secondary fermentation rounds out the rough edges and contributes to its polished look. It is easily one of the best examples in Switzerland although not yet a rival for the best in Burgundy.

The Wine

Pale gold in color. A slightly feral, musky, fresh nectarine aroma that is both inviting and barely perceptible. Flavors of salty tears suggest chasselas but its finish of puréed pears and apples is more textured than that. Not nearly the zippy acids of its Burgundian counterparts but it is clearly mineral—pure and simple—with water-like weight and clarity. Muscadet might be its sister from another mother. Delicious and versatile at the table.

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