Feature Coverage

Ward Off a Chill With These Wintry White Wines

“The conventional knowledge goes: drink white wines in the summer, and reds in the winter. And that sentiment is not without reason. Red wines are frequently higher in alcohol and tannins than their pale counterparts, making them feel too heavy for hot weather imbibing. The extra alcohol often has a warming effect, and the astringent tannins in a bottle of California cabernet sauvignon or Italian Barolo could overpower delicate flavors of fresh summer foods. On the other hand, high-acid white wines, like sauvignon blanc or a low-alcohol vhino verde, taste refreshing beyond bottle temperature thanks to bright citrus flavors and light fruits notes. In general, many prefer crisp, delicate wines during summer months. But, that’s not to say exceptions for colors and seasons don’t exist. For example, French Beaujolais or Spanish mencía are red wines so light and fruity that they taste wonderful chilled. Meanwhile, white sherries and chardonnays can be rich enough to feel like a blanket on cold wintery nights.

“To find a white wine suited to winter, look for richer bottles that can stand up to hearty cold weather stews and roasted vegetables. Some grape varietals, like pinot gris or chenin blanc, have a naturally creamy texture or funkiness that makes them taste fuller, while other whites are produced in a way that softens natural acids, yielding a wine that feels bigger, rounder, and warmer. For example, white wines that have been aged in oak absorb warm flavors from the wood, which can impart spicy aromas of cinnamon or nutmeg. California is famous for making chardonnay that’s unapologetically oaky and full of baking spice, with heavy butter notes to boot. These wines’ famous buttery flavor comes from a winemaking process known as malolactic fermentation, when tart malic acid naturally present in grapes is covered to softer, more mellow lactic acid. Wines that have undergone malolactic fermentation are often described as creamy, buttery, or even yogurt-y. Winemakers can choose to put a wine through malo, as it’s known for short, to create juice that’s lush and round, rather than bright and refreshing.

“Leaving a little bit of sweetness (known as residual sugar) in a wine is another way a producer adds texture to juice. But, just because a wine contains some sugar, doesn’t mean it’s a dessert wine, or that it will even taste sweet. Slightly off-dry options, like many German rieslings or French Vouvrays, gain body and structure from sugar without tasting like candy. Acid and sugar cancel each other out in wine, too. A riesling might contain a small amount of residual sugar, but if the wine has enough acid, the acid will counter-balance any sweetness so the wine does not feeling cloying. It might seem strange to imagine drinking a slightly sweet wine with dinner, but consider how frequently savory foods contain sugar. In fact, a wine with a little bit of residual sugar is the perfect complement to a slightly sweet dish.

“For those really cold days, a little bit of earthy funkiness from an unusual varietal or an oxidative process will yield a hearty and food-friendly wine. White wines made with incorporated oxygen, like Spanish sherries or some wines from France’s Jura region, take on cheesy, nutty flavors that help them stand up to even the creamiest winter stews. Below, six white wines to drink during winter. …

“… To really lean into winter, try Chablis. Wines from Chablis are 100 percent chardonnay, but they don’t taste of cinnamon and vanilla like California chardonnays often do. In Chablis, chardonnay grapes grow in a cold climate on limestone soils that were once seabeds. The soil is the root of this wine’s ocean minerality, and the cool climate produces a wine that’s lean and lightly fruity. Hints of cream and yogurt from malic acid lends a full texture that helps this bottle stand up to rich foods. Domaine Laroche’s Chablis show flinty and saline notes, and it’s versatile enough to match with oysters or classic French cuisine.”

Madeline Muzzi, February 22, 2016
Ward Off a Chill With These Wintry White Wines