Bored of Big, Red Wine? Try These Winter Whites Instead
No need to go beyond the pale when choosing chilly weather wine; these bottles speak to the season too.
Wearing white after Labor Day used to be unthinkable. But anyone who’s ever seen someone decked out in winter in a sleek white pantsuit with stilettos to match knows that that former fashion edict is as outdated as the rule of what to drink with meat or fish. Along those same line, you don’t always need to uncork a full-bodied red by the fireplace during winter. Heck, you may even live in a climate where the mercury only dips a tad anyway. However, the style of white wine we all are craving this time of year might be a little bit different.
Sara Maule, Italian brand ambassador for importer Frederick Wildman believes there are two directions you can take when selecting a white wine during the colder months. “You can go with light-bodied whites that are highly perfumed and reminiscent of summer,” she says. Varietals like gewürztraminer, gavi and riesling fit the bill. “The other way is to choose a complex, rich white wine to drink in front of the fire or to pair with the rich dishes that are associated with winter.” Maule points to chardonnays from Burgundy, Napa or southern Italy, or marsanne or roussanne from the Rhône Valley.
While you might be hell-bent on digging a path in the snow to your grill during a February blizzard, many of us are generally braising, roasting or simmering our dishes right now. Because those preparations tend to give more complex, layered, deep flavors, you might reach for a white that’s fuller-bodied and richer so it doesn’t get lost next to your coq au vin or braised lamb shoulder.
Friuli in northeast Italy is known for white wines that are interesting enough in the glass to uncork any time of year. Even pinot grigio, which can be lighter-bodied and more neutral in other Italian regions shows off lots of character here. “Friulian whites can be so expressive, intense, and provide us with an enveloping and complex sensation on the palate,” says Daniele Vuerich, winemaker for Attems Winery. “They can be a perfect match with the richer foods and strong flavors usually featured in winter, thanks to their expressive yet balanced bouquet, nice acidity, great structure, and savory finish.”
Ronald Buyukliev, lead sommelier for Greek restaurant Estiatorio Milos, with six locations around the world, believes that Greece’s indigenous varietals and climate that provides both ample exposure to the sun as well as a moderating cooling effect from the sea offer unique drinking experiences. “[These] wines are not overly alcoholic or ‘hot’ because no matter where you are in Greece, you’re not far away from water, which will either moderate the temperature or provide cooling breezes to the grapes,” he explains. One of his favorite white grapes hails from northern Greece: malagousia, which he describes as floral and aromatic with a beautiful texture. This varietal was all but extinct until a professor of oenology rediscovered it in the 1970s and told his student Vangelis Gerovassiliou about it, who ended up starting to vinify it on his estate. Malagousia is heady without being too heavy-handed or high ABV like viognier or similar floral varietals can be, while at the same being weighty enough to not be viewed as just a summertime quaffer.
Dan Davis believes some of us take a different tack in the winter, gravitating towards bottles that mirror our frame of mind right now. “In the colder months we are often more reserved, almost austere, in our habits, and winter wines tend to follow suit, with less expressive fruit characteristics and often higher acidity and more pronounced minerality,” says the wine guy at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. He points to bottles like dry German riesling and sylvaner, chardonnay from Chablis, Washington pinot gris and semillon from Australia’s Hunter Valley as providing that cleaner, more nuanced drinking experience that’s not over the top fruity nor oak-driven.
But when it all comes down to it, recommendations are helpful but they needn’t pigeonhole our choices whether it’s February or July. “When I think of an ideal glass of wine at home, which is often white, good memories come to mind: a story behind the label, a happy vintage, laughter with friends or a nice evening with family.” Vuerich muses. “Some white wines, just like some emotions, have no season."
Curl up and give these bottles a try:
2016 Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc “Les Sétilles” ($27): Grapes for this wine are sourced equally from Puligny Montrachet and Meursault. Sixty percent of the wine is aged in Allier oak (10% of that new), with the rest matured in stainless steel to retain freshness. It has balanced concentration and body, moderate oak and hints of baked goods
2017 Tenuta Rapitala Vigna Casalj Alcamo Classico DOC ($20): Though the catarratto grape can be relatively neutral with low acidity, in the right hands it’s capable of producing textured wines with layers of citrus along with savory tones. Aged on the lees to ramp up mouth feel, this wine has herbal aromas of sage, thyme and tomato leaves, and a full-bodied palate.
2017 Attems Pinot Grigio ($20): This pinot grigio from Friuli is expressive and interesting while still maintaining freshness and easy drinkability. On the nose you’ll find stone fruit, like apricot, along with lemon and white blossoms. The palate shows some of the same along with minerality, and the finish is satisfying, yet crisp.
2017 Attems Sauvignon Blanc ($20): While this Friulian offering shows classic sauvignon blanc character (minerality, herbaceousness and tart citrus), it’s all balanced with lively, but restrained, acidity and an intriguing finish of herbs and peach. Four months on the lees add weight and body that remain in check with the acid and fruit.
2013 Gerovassiliou Malagousia ($28): Fermented in both stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels and left on the lees for a few months to add structure and body, this wine has lovely aromas of citrus, pear and mango. The palate shows lemon peel, medium-body and a balanced finish.
2017 McGuigan Shortlist Semillon ($35): The lengthy palate is full of lemongrass, lemon zest and minerality balanced with the varietal’s signature lanolin note; drink it now or cellar it for a few years and let that fruit evolve into honey and lemon custard. The previous vintage won double gold in the 2018 NY International Wine Competition.