Jan 26, 2017
When the weather is cold, I often just want to reach for a red.
It’s got higher alcohol, is served at a warmer temperature, and
it’s great with hearty food.
But I’m here to tell you that there’s this underbelly of whites
that few know about that you need to get on right away. They are
usually a great price, often as satisfying as a red, and can pair
perfectly with rich food (especially spicy food). The common theme
is that they feel fuller and softer in your mouth and have good
flavor. If you put them in a black glass and you’d swear they were
In the summer and with summer foods, we all want sippers that
are refreshing and bright: Wines that are best colder and have high
acidity are best (Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay/Chablis,
Albariño or Verdejo from Spain). But as the temps go down, you need
a bone-warming white. The three keys to finding one:
- Lower acidity and softer, rounder textures, which mean these
wines are from warmer, sunnier climates where the grapes get fully
ripe and aren't as tart. 13.5% alcohol is probably the minimum
you’d want for the right body.
- Wines that are better served at 50˚F+ -- not ice cold. You'll
need to leave these out of the fridge to warm up.
- Fuller flavored wines that have enough umph to stand up to
richer foods -- soups and stews, poultry with herbs, pastas with
For me, the genre of grapes and blends that fit the bill are
those from Alsace, , the Rhône Valley, and Southern Italy, and
places that have similar climates to those areas.
Alsace Whites: Take your pick! Any of the great
grapes of Alsace are full, soft, rich, and great for warmer
- The Riesling is opulent and almost oily in
texture but still dry with peach, apple, pear, and mineral (think
of being near a waterfall) notes. The wine has acidity but it's
fuller in body than many dry German versions.
- The Pinot Gris is not so aromatic, but it's
spicy -- like coriander or mild ginger -- with smoke, orange,
apricot, pear notes and a rich texture. Good stuff and
- I’ve actually had some awesome Pinot Blanc of
late. Although it can be insipid and thin, the right producer in
the right year makes it fat, round, and pear-like in flavor.
- Great versions can be had from $18 on up to hundreds of
- For Southern Rhône, Costieres di Nîmes Blanc, Côtes de
Rhône Blanc, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape blanc are my
favorites. The main grapes for these wines vary -- some are
Grenache Blanc, some Marsanne, some Viognier, some Roussanne or
Picpoul, but good versions share the same character: soft,
luxurious textures that roll around in your mouth with enough
acidity to keep them from feeling heavy or imbalanced. The flavors
will range from peachy to honeyed to herbal, but the textures are
consistent so they fit the criteria above. Outstanding versions of
Costieres de Nîmes and Côtes de Rhône Blanc can be had for US$15 to
$20. I’ve even had some great Picpoul for around $15 that has this
- Châteauneuf-du-Pape will set you back at least $US40, but it’s
well worth it, especially with halibut in butter herb sauce (the
best pairing I’ve probably ever had!). You'll find similar wines
from great producers in Priorat just south of
Barcelona, Spain. These wines are often a better value than CdP and
have a Grenache Blanc lead (and they are awesome with Spanish
tapas!). You can get a great one for around $US25.
- Northern Rhône wines are similar but they are
more refined and much more expensive! Viognier from
Condrieu is soft, and like a bouquet of flowers or bowl of
peaches or apricots, and dry but decadent in texture. The white
versions of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and
Saint-Joseph are made with Marsanne and
Roussanne grapes and may be the fullest whites you'll find
-- like eating a honey comb, but not sweet, with lots of earthy,
waterfall/stream smells and flavors.
Before I go move from the Rhône to Southern Italy, I should
point out that California does some great whites with
Rhône grapes too. I’ve had some Viognier from Santa
Barbara that’s full of fruit flavor but with a touch of acid --
great with food and delicious on its own. Our friends at Tablas
Creek in Paso Robles make a few outstanding white Rhône blends in
the Rhône style. And one of the tastiest Rhône wines I've had
out of Lodi was a Picpoul by Acquiesce Winery -- full, rich, soft,
but with enough acidity to keep it from sitting heavy in your
mouth. All of these will run you more than $20, not a great value
but tasty nonetheless!
And to complete our tour of cold weather whites, on to
- The two amazing grapes of Southern Italy -- Fiano and
Greco -- make rich, full, soft whites. Another warm,
Mediterranean climate, these wines share a lot in common from a
texture standpoint with the wines of the southern Rhône,
especially. The difference is the flavors. Fiano tastes like honey
with tangerine, cardamom, and hazelnut notes and floral notes--
like being outside in a garden where the bees can't get enough of
the white flowers (gardenia, jasmine -- that kind of stuff). Greco
is soft, but the best version is Greco di Tufo from Campania, and
it tastes like pears and almonds with a ton of mineral/chalk note
and a good acidity.
Don’t worry, as with all audio blogs, all this info is at
winefornormalpeople.com. Bookmark the post, make your shopping
list, (maybe even get a black glass to fool your buddies) and drop
a comment to let me know what you thought!