Wine of the Week: Winter white wines

Don’t put away the white wines just because it’s cold outside.

Winter is slowly creeping in to D.C., and as the thermometer begins its descent in to the chilly territory, the first thing that most wine lovers think of — well, the first thing I think of — is reaching for a big red wine.

After all, big red wines are the perfect accompaniment for cold-weather fare, such as stews and chili. And they can be tongue-warming good on their own as well.

But what about white wines for weathering winter weather?

Most consumers usually think of white wines as warmer-weather companions. However, there are many white wines on the market that can be enjoyed all year long, and in my opinion, they are even more enjoyable when the temperature scoots down a notch or two.

Like wool scarves and flannel sheets, big white wines can provide warmth and contentment. Pair them with comfort foods, such as white bean chili or roasted chicken, and you have a match akin to red wine and steak.

The essential characteristics that I look for in winter whites are relatively straightforward. It’s really all about structure, structure, structure.

I like white wines that carry a lot of weight and density in the mouth and fruit notes centered around pear, peach, roasted nuts and tropical fruits.

These are typically the same characteristics that can be found in white Rhone varietals — such as Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne — but can also include dense Semillon and creamy chardonnays.

Here are a few of my favorite examples of white wines that are perfect for a winter evening.

One of my favorite winter whites is the 2018 Guigal Cotes du Rhone Blanc from the Cotes du Rhone region in France. This solid white wine is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne.

It is intensely fruity, rich and elegantly balanced and packed with delicious stone fruit characteristics (think ripe peach and nectarine), orange marmalade, honeysuckle and white flowers. It is capped off with a dollop of white peach on the soft finish. $15

The first cousin of the aforementioned wine is the 2017 Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Petite Ruche Blanc from just a bit farther up the Rhone Valley region.

“Petite Ruche” — which means “little beehive” — takes its name from the vineyard’s prior incarnation, when it was used for bee keeping. Currently, the vineyard grows Marsanne grapes that produce a wine that has a beautiful floral nose, featuring scents of acacia and honeysuckle.

The mouthfeel is juicy and rich, featuring ripe pear and notes of canned peaches. The structure is wonderfully unctuous for a wine at this price. Pair it with grilled halibut or seared scallops. $28

Considered by many to be the standard-bearer of the American version of the French white Rhone, the 2017 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc from Paso Robles, California, is hard to ignore.

Produced using five estate-grown varietals propagated from budwood cuttings from the original Château de Beaucastel estate in France, this California transplant displays characteristic floral aromas of orange blossom and white flowers. Hefty flavors of ripe peach, pear, pineapple have a beautiful weight in the mouth.

The wine has excellent balance and complexity, and notes of honey on the back of the finish keep you coming back for another sip. Perfect with French onion soup. $40

And if you simply must have a chardonnay to cuddle up with on a cold winter night, there are few that will keep you warmer. You’ll definitely want one that is fully clothed in oak, since it’s the oak aging that gives chardonnay wines much of their depth and richness.

The 2017 Chalk Hill Chardonnay from Sonoma, California, is an excellent example of a rich, complex style that bends toward sumptuous without being overly excessive. It has layers of juicy pear, green melon and Calimyrna fig on the front of the palate.

Notes of roasted hazelnut and a touch of baking spices glide in on the remarkably balanced finish. It is a big white wine in search of a lobster dinner. $30

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