Sauvignon Blanc and Rose were made for the summer months. Their crisp acidity and fruity palette just beg to be sipped outside on a steamy evening.
But come winter, we long for something more substantial. Just as we look to hearty braises and stews in the kitchen to bring a sense of warmth and sustenance, so we look to bigger, more full-bodied wines to see us through the chilly times.
Many would automatically turn-coat to red, with their structured tannins and fuller mouth feel. But don't forget the winter whites—Chardonnay and Riesling. A glass of Chardonnay at holiday time leaves you aglow instead of weighed down, as it can on a sweltering summer day. And Riesling is a perfect pair with the stick-to-your-ribs fare of the winter months.
Chardonnay is the most popular of all white wines, beloved by viticulturists, winemakers and consumers alike. Chardonnay has its roots in France’s Burgundy region, but is now grown in literally every wine growing country around the globe.
The grape itself is incredibly versatile. It thrives in a variety of soil and climate conditions and reflects both the terroir in which the grapes are grown and the winemaking techniques practiced in the cellar. For this reason, you’ll find a wide spectrum of Chardonnay styles to enjoy—from flinty and crisp to full-bodied butterscotch.
Here in Sonoma County, there are numerous microclimates that affect both the type of clones planted in a certain area (Clone 4, for instance, loves the warm valley floors) and the character of the finished wine. In the cellar, the winemaker can control the amount of toast and the degree of malolactic fermentation, resulting in varying degrees of vanilla and butterscotch.
Because of the extreme variation in style, nailing down hard and fast pairing rules for Chardonnay can be quite tricky. Lobster and crab pair beautifully with steely, cool climate Chardonnays, for instance; creamy sauces with medium bodied ones; and a roast chicken would go wonderfully with a more robust, oaked wine. And then there’s always shrimp and mushroom fettuccine with caramelized shallots and corn that pairs perfectly with Clos du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay.
While Chardonnay is sort of like the sunny Californian that just so happens to look great in a fuzzy white coat, Riesling was born to be a winter white. It can withstand the cold better than just about any other vine, and does so often in Germany and France’s Alsace region where the grape is famed.
In the cellar, Riesling dislikes oak. By nature, it is a highly aromatic wine showing notes of jasmine and honeysuckle on the nose, with low alcohol and a zesty, almost spicy palate. Yet as Rieslings age, they can take on toasty characteristics, despite the lack of oak treatment, and acquire a mild scent of Asian citrus and brioche.
The lovely acid-fruit balance of Riesling makes it a great match for a variety of flavors. I like it with Chinese food or sushi, but I also love it with white braises or simple roast chicken. This may be strange, but when I think of Riesling I think of Jean-Georges Vongerichten and I’m not exactly sure why. It could be that he’s from Alsace. Or it could be that he once had a Chicken Braised in Riesling recipe (see photo to the right) on the cover of Food+Wine that still makes me salivate. Or it could be that his name is equated with Asian-inspired dishes with which Riesling pairs so well. Or maybe it’s just all three.
So give the red a rest tonight and try a winter white!
Lia Huber writes about wine, food and life on her blog Swirling Notions . . . www.swirlingnotions.com