The Cabinet

of Dr. Callegari

Winter Whites

Thanks to decades of [yellow tail], Cavit and other juice bandits pouring cheap, Pine-sol-esque Chardonnay and painfully boring Pinot Grigio down the throats of unsuspecting corporate holiday party attendees and sweaty wedding guests, far too many Americans believe that white wine is like a lifeboat: reserved for helpless women and children, unless men can't find another way out. The swill that has gone parading under the name white wine has contributed to a powerful negative social perception of white wine as effeminate, not worth taking seriously and, ultimately, not very good. This is a tragedy of Titanic proportions, and one that will not be resolved easily. But speaking of icebergs, a first step toward remedying the situation is to pull out the winter whites.

Yes, among the pernicious urban legends circulating about white wine is that it should be consumed only in warm weather, and then still only with 'light foods,' like fish and vegetables. In fact, whites can easily be just as substantial and muscular as their red brethren, and are often even more flexible. So-called 'winter whites' are wines that have body and depth, and maybe a little bit of age, and they can impress the palate of even the most convinced wine racist. Plus, they tend to create welcome contrasts with the heavier cuisine people love to pretend they need to eat for warmth during the winter months, despite the fact that most of us stopped requiring extra weight to sustain us through the cold season sometime around the Industrial Revolution. Fatty meats, rich stews, cheesy pastas and anything spicy all beg for the acid and textured creaminess of a good white wine, which can also bring in some comforting cold weather notes that you don't often find in reds, like nuts, baking spices or honey. They can also avoid palate-clashing disasters, a common winter vegetable problem (artichokes and red wine = catastrophe!), or brighten up an otherwise boring mid-hibernation meal when the outside world seems too dreary or too frigid to be faced. In fact, vintage champagne goes spectacularly well with wintry dishes, especially if something fried is making an appearance, so push Punxsutawney Phil back into his burrow and pop a good bottle of sparkling to celebrate the snow!

The definition of winter white is fairly open, but some classics to look out for are Chablis (Chardonnay from Burgundy), Vouvray (the notoriously hard to pin down Chenin Blanc grape as done by the Loire Valley) and Riesling (the Alsatian versions especially). I'm a particularly big fan of Soave and Friulano, two Italian grapes that are easy to love but genuinely interesting to drink, and Gewürztraminer, which grows on both sides of the Alps but which is also a rare example of a good value from California if you can find it (Mendocino has some great producers!). If vintage Champagne is too too rich for your blood, look for Cava, Crémant or Franciacorta--bubblies made in the traditional method like Champagne and boasting the same toasty, yeasty notes, but easier on the wallet.

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