Alex Gambal Bourgogne Aligote 2017
THE MOVE: In 1991-1992, I began to explore the possibility of living abroad for a year or two while our children were young. We had become interested in wine and it had become our major avocation.
In May 1993, my family and I moved to Burgundy, France to take a year off to work with and help manage a small wine export company based in Beaune, France. Our goal was simply to take a year's sabbatical from Washington but we hoped that if we and the children were content we might stay longer. We moved to a small village of 150 people just outside Beaune, in the center of Burgundy, put the children in French schools, and four years later we looked back on a wonderful experience that changed our lives.
FIRST STEPS IN BURGUNDY: When we arrived in 1993 the wine business was in the dumps because of the world recession and a glut of fine wine. As we worked our way through the recession I was able to taste a variety of old, young and great wines with some of the greatest winemakers in the world. In addition, because we lived, worked and had our children in French schools, we were not perceived as tourists and were welcomed into the hidden Burgundy as parents and friends. And thus had a unique and wonderful experience.
A legendary wine region setting the benchmark for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay worldwide, Burgundy is a perennial favorite of many wine lovers. While the concept of ‘terroir’ reigns supreme here—soil type, elevation and angle of each slope—this is a region firmly rooted in tradition. Because of the Napoleonic Code requiring equal distribution of property and land among all heirs, vineyard ownership in Burgundy is extremely fragmented, with some growers responsible for just one or two rows of vines. This system has led to the predominance of the "negociant"—a merchant who purchases fruit from many different growers to vinify and bottle together.
Burgundy’s cool, continental climate and Jurassic limestone soils are perfect for the production of elegant, savory and mineral-driven Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with plenty of acidity. Vintage variation is of particular importance here, as weather conditions can be variable and unpredictable. In some years spring frost and hail must be overcome.
The Côte d’Or, a long and narrow escarpment, forms the heart of the region, split into the Côte de Nuits to the north and the Côte de Beaune to the south. The former is home to many of the world’s finest Pinot Noir wines, while Chardonnay plays a much more prominent role in the latter, though outstanding red and white are produced throughout. Other key appellations include the Côte Chalonnaise, home to great value Pinot Noir and sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne. The Mâconnais produces soft and round, value-driven Chardonnay while Chablis, the northernmost region of Burgundy, is a paradise for any lover of bright, acid-driven and often age-worthy versions of the grape.
A native but unique white grape to Burgundy, Aligoté is a light bodied white that often ends up unfairly lost in Chardonnay’s shadow. In Côte Chalonnaise, in a quaint village named Bouzeron, just south of the Côte de Beaune, Aligoté has its very own appellation where yields are limited in order to enhance flavors, acidity and overall quality. Somm Secret—Curiously, the famous producer, Domaine Ponsot, bottles a 100% Aligoté from its Premier Cru in Morey-Ste-Denis, Les Monts Luisants, made from Aligoté vines planted in 1911.