When temperatures dip, many people want to cozy up by the fireplace with a bold, full-bodied red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. These rich wines are comforting this time of the year and often pair beautifully with hearty winter meals. But full-bodied red wines aren’t the only beverage of choice for the chilliest winter months. Opulent and creamy white wine can be just as comforting in the cold seasons. In fact, distinctive white wines like Chardonnay, Viognier, Champagne, Sauternes, and Tokaji can pair even better with some traditional winter foods than red wines do. Certain white wines are also made to impress, particularly aged bottles of Sauternes, Tokaji, and vintage Champagne. These iconic and valuable wines make winter holiday occasions feel all the more special.
The key to serving white wine in winter is to pick varieties and blends that are concentrated in flavor, high in alcohol or acidity, and can stand up to dense winter dishes like stews and pot roasts. It’s also important to select wines that will stir up excitement in your guests. In this guide, you’ll learn how to select the perfect white wine for your next winter celebration.
Why Drink White Wine in Winter?
The biggest misconception about drinking white wine is that you have to serve these wines at a much cooler temperature than red wines. The last thing most people want to do is drink an ice-cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc when it’s snowing outside. This is one reason that people avoid drinking white wine in winter. However, the common practice of chilling wines down to 40 degrees or cooler can shut down the flavors of certain white wine styles. Instead, all white wines (even crisp, refreshing styles like Sauvignon Blanc) should be served between 43 and 55 degrees. Sweet wines, like Sauternes, should be well chilled to 43-45 degrees. Sparkling wines, like Champagne, can be served a little warmer, between 43-50 degrees. However, heavier varieties, like Chardonnay, taste best when served between 50-55 degrees because the warmth opens up their aromatics. So, while white wines should still be chilled, they shouldn’t be served ice cold—you won’t freeze when you drink a properly chilled white wine.
Your guests may be surprised by how well white wines pair with winter foods.
Many white wine varieties are perfect for winter because they complement a wide range of foods. Brawny and tannic red wines can easily overpower some dishes, while a concentrated Viognier or Chenin Blanc is slightly less intense. You’ll still get a wine with a powerful depth of flavor, but these flavors will harmonize better with the dishes you serve.
Serving white wine in winter is also a great way to impress guests at a holiday party or to break out of a wine rut. It’s easy to get tired of big, bold red wines during the colder months. Breaking up the routine with a honeyed Sauternes or a buttery Chardonnay can help reset your palate. Since dinner guests may not be expecting to drink still white wines at a winter holiday party, serving them is a fun and unexpected move. Your guests may be surprised by how well white wines pair with winter foods and you’ll get to share your favorite opulent white wines with friends. This is particularly important if your guests are wine enthusiasts themselves. An experienced wine collector would be thrilled to see a fine bottle of 2016 Château La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc or something rich and sweet, such as 2014 Château d’Yquem Ygrec Y sitting on the table.
Drinking white wine in winter is a perfect way to celebrate the season, but you’ll need to choose carefully. It’s best to save delicate styles for the spring and summer months and instead dip into your collection of racy and powerful white wines. Below are some of the best varieties and styles for winter drinking.
The Best White Wine Varieties and Styles for Winter Celebrations
Dry white wines that are high in acidity or alcohol (or both) are some of the best to drink in winter because they can stand up to heavier foods. Sparkling wines are also ideal for winter celebrations as they are festive and pair well with both light and rich dishes. It’s traditional to serve Champagne this time of the year, so if you’re unsure whether you or your dinner guests will enjoy drinking still white wine in the winter, almost any sparkling wine is a safe alternative. If you’re looking for a wine to pair with dessert, try an ultra-sweet white wine like Sauternes or Tokaji. No matter what your winter celebration looks like, there is a perfect white wine for the occasion.
You should also select wines based on who you’re inviting to your winter celebration. If it’s just you and a loved one or friend enjoying a bottle together, it might be a good time to break out the fine Bordeaux, perhaps a well-aged bottle from a highly-rated vintage, like 2009, 2005. However, if you’re planning on having a lot of people over, you might opt for an impressive and crowd-pleasing case of Champagne. If you purchase a case of 2009 Louis Roederer Cristal, for instance, you could pull a couple of bottles out over the next few seasons to enjoy with friends and hold a few other bottles aside to age for investment purposes.
With this in mind, here are a few white wines you should try this winter:
|Bottles to Try
|Older Champagne can have a nutty, brioche-like flavor, while younger Champagne has fresher flavors of citrus or tropical fruit. Serve aged wines at special winter events.
|Aged Sauternes is deep-colored and full of caramel flavors, while younger Sauternes tastes more tropical and fruity. Although you can drink Sauternes young, most wine enthusiasts choose to invest in aged bottles to get the most out of these iconic wines.
|Oaky, aged Chardonnay from Burgundy (specifically Meursault and Puligny Montrachet), California, Australia, and New Zealand is very concentrated and full-bodied, ideal for the winter season. Serve New-World wines and young Burgundy with winter meals. Serve aged Burgundy on its own so you can appreciate the nuanced flavor.
|Although it’s light-bodied, Chenin Blanc is very high in acidity and lifts heavy winter foods. These wines also have the benefit of being collectible, so you can save a few bottles for the future.
|Off-dry and sweet styles of Riesling are the best choice in the winter because they pair well with heavier dishes. Some styles of Riesling such as ice wine are also exceptionally rare and therefore collectible.
|Many of these wines have flavors of ginger and saffron, which complement common winter spices. These wines are also fascinating to talk about over a winter meal; they are meticulously crafted and every bottle tells a story.
|Similar to Chardonnay in weight, this variety is bold and creamy and can stand up to some of the densest foods. This is also an unexpected choice compared to Chardonnay, so it will impress everyone from casual drinkers to serious wine enthusiasts.
There are no rules saying that you have to drink only rich, concentrated white wines in the winter like the ones listed above, but these types of wines are most likely to appeal to people at this time of the year. As an added benefit, many of these wines happen to be especially rare or have an interesting origin and sense of place; they are conversation-starters. However, serving white wine in winter isn’t just about telling a great story. The wine you choose also depends on what food, if any, you have planned. Each wine listed above pairs best with a different type of winter dish.
How to Select the Best White Wine for Your Winter Meal
One reason you might choose to serve white wine in winter is that you have a specific dish in mind for a perfect wine pairing. Light red wines pair well with a wide selection of foods, but some dishes only really sing when they’re paired with a rich white wine, particularly a well-aged one. Below are a few excellent white wine pairings for classic winter dishes.
|Ideal Serving Temperature
|Heavy or fried foods like:
Sweet or creamy foods like:
|43 to 50 degrees
|Savory foods with some slight sweetness like:
|43 to 45 degrees
|Rich and creamy foods like:
Roasted dishes like:
|50 to 55 degrees
|Spicy foods like:
Poultry dishes like:
|Off-dry Rieslings pair with lightly spiced winter dishes like:
Sweet Rieslings pair with fruit-based desserts like:
|45 to 50 degrees
|Savory foods like:
Sweet foods like:
|50 to 59 degrees
|Lightly-spiced foods like:
Sweet root vegetables and squash like:
|50 to 55 degrees
Winter is a time to get together with loved ones over a warm meal and enjoy the beauty of this frosty season.
Some winter dishes don’t pair very well with most white wines, even high-quality, aged, or deeply concentrated ones. For example, hearty red meat dishes are often too powerful for most white wines. A heavily oaked young Chardonnay can sometimes stand up to these types of dishes, but not always. This is particularly true if the dish is made using a red wine sauce or reduction (the two different styles of wine will likely clash).
Nonetheless, it’s usually easy to serve white wine in winter. You can choose from a range of great wine and food pairings, from buttery Chardonnay and creamy bisque to acidic Chenin Blanc and sweet roasted yams. If you want the greatest success, it’s best to choose the wine first and the dish second. Start with a wine that is especially impressive, whether it has a unique story to tell, is made by a renowned producer, or simply tastes incredible. You can then create a winter event that centers around that special bottle, where all of the components of the dish bring out the nuance of every note in the wine. Winter is a time to get together with loved ones over a warm meal and enjoy the beauty of this frosty season. There’s no better way to do that than with a glass of opulent white wine.
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