Whites you say? Surely I must be crazy to suggest such a thing once the weather dips below freezing. If it makes you feel better, we can call them fireside whites, or even “serious” white wines for serious wine drinkers. Regardless, you should be pulling some corks or cracking some caps on white wine this winter.
The right whites for winter
So, what sort of wines are suitable for a blustery, wintry day? Right off the bat, oaky chardonnays are a great choice. New world chardonnays from America, Australia or even Chile often have a richer, more prominent oak character than those from France or other European countries. Wines matured in smaller oak barrels or in first- or second-use barrels (the more often you reuse a barrel, the more the influence of oak on a wine diminishes) add buttery, caramel or spicy flavours and aromas. Chardonnay is one of the few white grapes that is capable of having plenty of oak and still being balanced. These wines can also be aged sur lie, or “on the lees,” which are the dead yeast cells left over from fermentation that add an obviously yeasty character to the wine, and often a nutty or sourdough flavour and some richer texture to the wine as well.
Riesling and gewrztraminer are other wintertime friends. Both prominent in Germany and Alsace, and a perfect cool-climate grape, they are notable for intense flavourings, often a little sweetness, but also wonderful acidity. Acidity helps cut through rich or fatty foods and refreshes the palate. It also balances sweetness, so a crisply acidic wine with some sweetness is never cloying.
Love Germanic varieties such as riesling, but hate sweetness? Try the wines of Alsace in France. The region boasts some of the finest and rarely sweet rieslings, gewrztraminers and other serious whites on the planet. Canada is also one of the best cool-climate wine countries, making some stunning rieslings from both B.C. and Ontario, which are worth drinking any time of year.
Viognier is an often overlooked variety that’s perfect for a blustery evening. Packing intense flavour and a sometimes oily finish, its flowery aromas and bright fruits are a promise of sorts that a winter in Calgary might only be seven months.
Blends worth remembering at this time of year
As for the blends, while red blends tend to get a lot of press and buzz, white blends are some of the greatest, most exciting wines out there to drink. The possibilities are nearly endless, but the very best white blends provide a drinking experience with layers of fruit, floral character, spice, textures and much more. European blends such as white Chteauneuf-du-Pape hit every check box.
Good white wines, the kind that make for good winter quaffing, can and do mature well in the cellar. The most important thing for selecting whites for aging is their acidity – the more acidity, the longer the wine can potentially age. As white wine matures, it gains nutty characteristics, and wines that could potentially handle that flavour are good candidates for the cellar. These include chardonnay, white Chteauneuf-du-Pape and other full-flavoured whites. Riesling is an excellent cellar dweller, bolstered by high acids and intense flavours. As rieslings age, they can develop a bit of a petrol or mineral oiliness, which is very desirable for some palates.
3 perfect pairings
Cassis: Goat cheese salad and Alsatian pinot gris
It’s a rare pinot gris that can stand up well to goat cheese, but the 2013 Pierre Sparr Pinot Gris ($13 by the glass, $55 by the bottle) does. It has honey and hazelnut flavours to balance quince and pear fruit flavours, offsetting and complementing this great and tasty salad.
2505 17 Ave. S.W., 403-262-0036, thecassisbistro.ca
Rouge: Halibut and pinot blanc
Who doesn’t love halibut poached in butter and served with gnocchi? Pair it with possibly the finest pinot blanc that has ever crossed my lips: the Basserman-Jordan Pinot Blanc ($15 by the glass). Its rich, unctuous fruits, silky texture and long finish of baked apples and summery fruits complement the halibut perfectly.
1240 8 Ave. S.E., 403-531-2767, rougecalgary.com
Vin Room: Small plates and a big blend
The best thing about small plates and an awesome by-the-glass program is that you are encouraged to try new things and to share. Line up the chicken meatballs and the Humboldt squid salad with the Treana white blend of viognier and marsanne ($6 for a two-oz. glass, $75 for the bottle). The intense pear and tropical fruit flavour of the wine is super versatile, yet delicious on its own, too.
2310 4 St. S.W., 403-457-5522, vinroom.com
6 whites for the winter
Domaine Durieu 2013 Chteauneuf-du-Pape cuvee traditionnelle blanc, Rhne, France
Oh, this just hits the spot. Based around roussanne with grenache and clairette, the nose is clean and elegant. Even on the palate there is a certain refinement, with hints of lime, apple and minerals, and a long and textured finish. Pair with white meats if serving for dinner, or with a roaring fire and fuzzy slippers. $49.
Domaine Mur-Mur-Ium 2013 Viognier, Ventoux, France
Close your eyes and have a sniff – you can easily picture a rolling vineyard around you while resting on a beautiful patio. Peaches and nectarines come to the fore with bold mineral character and a long, slightly bitter finish. Roasted chicken, a creamy sauce or a mild curry will work here. $28.
Cave Spring 2013 Estate Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Ontario
We don’t see nearly enough Ontario riesling here in Alberta, but the folks at Cave Springs know how to make one that stands out, and it’s readily available here. Lime fruits and intense mineral tones start things off, while racy acids and a pinch of sweetness on the finish bring you back for another. So good. $24.
Wente Vineyards 2012 Riva Ranch Chardonnay, Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California
Like those chardonnays big and oaky? Here you go! Spicy barrel characters with vanilla bean and fresh buttery notes are balanced by rich fruits, a touch of caramel and a slightly boozy finish. $23.
Patz & Hall 2013 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California
Think creamy pear and peach aromas with a bit of spice. Flavours are deep, layered and range from freshly sliced pears and peeled apples with a hint of butter and some zingy acids. A delicious and versatile match against poultry or salmon with a creamy sauce. $44.
Tinhorn Creek 2014 Oldfield Series 2Bench White, Okanagan Valley, B.C.
A blend of semillon, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier and muscat, this is a well-thought-out combination that shows off what is happening with Okanagan whites. A lot of tropical fruits can be found in the glass with a fine balance between fruit and acid. Enjoy while planning your next golf trip to B.C. $27.