When the temperature outdoors dips to the point where sweaters and corduroy announce their seasonal presence, put away not only white pants and shoes, but tropical white wines as well.
Instead, open winter whites—white wines with more texture, layers and toasty, oak-derived character—that better match the season.
“It’s a time when your palate is interested in more complexity in the wine,” says Belinda Chang, director of wine and spirits at Cenitare, a Chicago-based restaurant group whose eateries include Osteria di Tramonto, Gale’s Coffee Bar, RT Lounge and Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood. She manages a 10,000-bottle cellar with 2,000 selections on the wine list. “You’re definitely looking for wines that are more voluptuous, with more viscosity and [that] are luxurious.”
Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are good transitions into colder weather. Pop open a bottle that’s styled almost like Chardonnay—”very opulent and aged in oak,” says Chang. She suggests Gaja Alteni di Brassica Sauvignon Blanc, from Langhe, Italy; or Vie di Romans Pinot Grigio Dessimus, from Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy. Chang also likes 2005 Peay Vineyards Estate Marsanne/Roussanne (Sonoma Coast), “an opulent style of wine great for winter;” and Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, with its “gentle oak spices” to complement braised or slow-cooked vegetables.
To decide which white to drink in winter, consult the methodology of the wine and the winemaker’s style. “Warm weather is all about high tones, brightness and acidity, as well as light weight, low alcohol and clean finishes, with a lack of oak,” says Chang. Consider the opposite end of the spectrum during colder weather.
Also think about the food being served. While summer means heirloom tomatoes, fresh melon and light salad greens, wintertime is synonymous with braised, slow-cooked meats and hearty stews. These types of foods are higher in fat and demand a wine that is more complex. “You want the whites to be more textured and richer to complement those dishes, and match the weight,” says Chang.