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 warm and comforting in the cold seasons. In fact, bolder white wines like Chardonnay, Viognier, Champagne, and Sauternes pair even better with some traditional winter foods than red wines do.
The key to serving white wine in winter is to pick varieties that are concentrated in flavor, high in alcohol or acidity, and can stand up to dense winter dishes like stews and pot roasts. 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, when these wines are chilled down to 40 degrees or cooler, as they often are, their flavors tend to shut down. Instead, all white wines (even crisp, refreshing styles like Sauvignon Blanc) should be served between 45 and 55 degrees. Heavier, richer varieties like Chardonnay actually taste best when served around 55 degrees because their aromatics open up with some warmth. 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 red wines during the colder months. Breaking up the monotony with a honeyed Sauternes or a buttery Chardonnay can help reset your palate. Dinner guests may not be expecting to drink still white wines at a winter holiday party, either; serving white wines 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.
Drinking white wine in winter is a perfect way to celebrate the season, but you’ll need to choose your varieties 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 for Winter Celebrations
Dry white wines that are high in acidity or alcohol (or both) are some of the best varieties to drink in the 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 and Tokaji. No matter what your winter celebration looks like, there is a perfect white wine for the occasion.
Viognier is bold and creamy and can stand up to some of the densest foods.
Here are a few white wines you should try this winter:
|Wine||Style||Bottles to Try|
|Champagne||Older Champagne has a nutty, brioche-like flavor, while younger Champagne has fresher flavors of citrus or tropical fruit.|
|Chardonnay||Oaky, aged Chardonnay from Burgundy, California, Australia, and New Zealand is very concentrated and full-bodied, ideal for the winter season.|
|Chenin Blanc||Although it’s light-bodied, this variety is very high in acidity and lifts heavy winter foods.|
|Riesling||Off-dry and sweet styles of Riesling are the best choice in the winter because they pair well with heavier dishes.|
|Sauternes||Aged Sauternes is deep-colored and full of caramel flavors, while younger Sauternes tastes more tropical and fruity.|
|Tokaji||Many of these wines have flavors of ginger and saffron, which complement common winter spices.|
|Viognier||Similar to Chardonnay in weight, this variety is bold and creamy and can stand up to some of the densest foods.|
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 often appeal to the most people this time of the year. If you would rather drink a crisp, delicate white like Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc, there’s no reason to avoid these wines just because the weather is a little colder outside. It all comes down to personal taste. What wine you choose also depends on what food you plan on serving with it (if any). Each wine above pairs best with a different type of winter dish.
How to Select the Best White Wine for Your Winter Meal
Another reason why you might choose to serve white wine in winter is that you have a perfect wine pairing in mind for a specific dish. Light red wines pair well with a wide variety of foods, but some dishes only really sing when they’re paired with a rich white wine. Below are a few white wine pairings for classic winter dishes.
|Wine||Pairing||Ideal Serving Temperature|
|Champagne||Heavy or fried foods like:
Sweet or creamy foods like:
|45 to 50 degrees|
|Chardonnay||Rich and creamy foods like:
Roasted dishes like:
|50 to 55 degrees|
|Chenin Blanc||Spicy foods like:
Poultry dishes like:
|Riesling||Off-dry Rieslings pair with lightly spiced winter dishes like:
Sweet Rieslings pair with fruit-based desserts like:
|45 to 50 degrees|
|Sauternes||Savory foods with some slight sweetness like:
|50 to 55 degrees|
|Tokaji||Savory foods like:
Sweet foods like:
|50 to 59 degrees|
|Viognier||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 deeply concentrated ones. For example, heavy red meat dishes are often too powerful for most white wines. A heavily oaked 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).
Usually, however, it’s very easy to serve white wine in winter. You can choose from a variety of great wine and food pairings, from buttery Chardonnay and creamy bisque to acidic Chenin Blanc and sweet roasted yams. 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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