Winter may have been dragging its heels this year, peppering January with spring-like days, but with the onslaught of two-plus feet of snow, it’s safe to say that winter has fully arrived. But we have a bone to pick with the season – why is it all about the red wines? For three (and in reality, four or five) long months, we’re supposed to forget about all the other wines we love year-round? We think it’s time to turn to palate-cleansing, spirit-freshening, even summer-vibes-inducing white and rosé wines to get through the winter.
When it comes to classifying wines for winter, full-bodied, oaked whites are often the go-to, such as California Chardonnays. However, there are a plethora of other options out there for lovers of unoaked or lighter-bodied wines. Acidity is important in a winter white; as cold-weather foods tend to be on the heavier side; acid helps to cut through all that richness and brighten things up. Thus, full-bodied wines that are unoaked but have bright acidity, or even lighter-bodied wines that instead have a lot of texture, are excellent options.
When it comes to winter rosés (wait, is there even such a thing?), the selection is a bit smaller, since our previously rosé-hungry summer selves were fiends and drank them all. Lucky for us, some winemakers decide to age their rosés for longer and release them later, providing a whole new batch of wines to devour. Rosés found in the wintertime are usually a bit darker and fuller-bodied than the pale pink rosés of summer, but that’s a good thing! They pair better with food, tend to be more complex, and can age into really interesting wines. Some of the rosés left over from summer days actually taste better now than they did months ago.
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Ready to buck tradition and embrace the new winter wine movement? Below are some of our favorite picks for winter whites and rosés.
Behold: a California Chardonnay that tastes nothing like the average Cali Chard. Stony Hill refuses to age their wines in new oak and stop malolactic fermentation, so all of those buttery, oaky flavors are nowhere to be found. Crisp and fresh, the Stony Hill Chardonnay is more reminiscent of Chablis than of California, with bright red apple, lemon zest, and white peach, finished off by a hit of chalky minerality. Proof that restrained Chardonnays from California do exist!
This is the wine for all of the oak-lovers out there! A blend of Chardonnay and a bit of Grechetto from the central Italian region of Umbria, the character of this wine is a somewhat of a Napa-Meursault combo with an Italian kick. The fruit is rich and ripe – think red apples, ripe peach, and orange – with vanilla, baking spices, and a distinctive creaminess. While oak makes a statement, the ‘Cervaro’ never swings too far into oak-bomb camp, due to bright acidity, and with the right dish – roasted chicken and root vegetables, perhaps? – even non-oak lovers could be swayed.
With its ability to make a diversity of wine styles, Chenin Blanc may just be the ultimate year-round grape. It has acidity, body, minerality, and the ability to vary in sweetness, so there truly is a Chenin for every season. The ‘Magic of Juju’ (best wine name ever?) is a naturally vinified example that shows the essence of the grape: racing, citrus-driven acidity, stony minerality, coupled with a savory, nutty finish. While the wine is medium-bodied, it has a rich, creamy texture, like a soft blanket. Be sure to stock up extra bottles for summer, too, before it’s all gone!
Another side of Chenin Blanc, Savennières finds its sweet spot in the wintertime. Because of the location of Savennieres, north of the Loire River, Chenin grapes tend to ripen more, making the resulting wines full-bodied, yet ripping with acidity. Savennières also has quite the unique flavor profile, as evidenced in this aged release from Domaine Aux Moines. Rather than bright, fresh citrus, think golden apple, yellow pear, stone, honey, toasted almonds, and more – a new flavor jumps out of the glass with every sip! Pro tip: since the ’99 is so darn affordable for a 17-year-old wine, get the 2012 vintage too and try them side-by-side.
Southern Italian and Sicilian whites are great for the wintertime because while an abundance of sunshine ripens grapes for fuller-bodied wines, cool nights help to preserve freshness. Plus, the abundance of volcanic soil in Southern Italy and Sicily adds a unique minerality to these wines, and winemakers don’t typically oak the wines, showcasing the wine’s inherent character. In this high-elevation bottling from Campania, aromas of lemon, green apple, almond, and flint carry through to the palate, where all of that acid is ready to cut through heavy winter foods.
Some whites need age in order to show at their best, and Rioja estate Lopez de Heredia isn’t taking any chances on bottles being opened too soon; they don’t even release this ‘Viña Gravonia’ before it’s aged for ten years. White Rioja, which tends to be fuller-bodied and aged in new or old oak, is built for winter, and this bottle is a special one. Because of extended oxidative aging, the wine is a deep gold, almost amber, in color, with succulent flavors of orange marmalade, tangerine, and apricot, almost sherry-like in its savory, salty finish. This wine is worth the wait – especially since the price is still right!
Trust us when we say that this is unlike any Pinot Grigio you’ve tasted before. After all, it’s uncommon for a winery to age Pinot Grigio for five years before releasing it, and it’s even more uncommon for the wine to get better as it continues to age in bottle. With vineyards in both Slovenia and just over the border in Italy, Movia’s charismatic winemaker Ales Kristancic certainly goes against the grain, and the results are delicious. This ‘Sivi’ (the Slovenian name for Pinot Grigio) sees some skin contact, making it almost an orange wine, and is aged in old oak barrels; it’s complex but not too heavy, with golden apple, tangerine, and apricot fruit flavors, plus a nutty, savory, textural quality that is incredibly distinctive. You won’t soon forget this wine.
“Cerasuolo” literally translates to “cherry-like” in Italian, and it indicates that this is a lighter-colored wine made from the region’s local grape, Montepulciano. This biodynamic wine is the perfect cold-weather rosé: dry but with dark cherry and raspberry fruit, slightly textured and earthy but still easy-drinking. This is the kind of rosé to drink with hearty meat dishes, preferably served family style, as homage to the awesome winemaking family behind the bottle.
Depending on how you look at it, the Susucaru can be categorized either as a dark rosé or a light red, but either way, it is both fun and funky, kind of like its winemaker. Frank Cornelissen is a leader of the uber-natural wine movement, making lively wines with no added sulfur on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Etna. In Cornelissen’s typical out-of-the-box way, the ‘Susucaru’ is a blend of both white and red grapes fermented together, making this cloudy, textured rosé with cider-like cherry notes, melon rind, rustic earth, and salinity. It’s a polarizing wine, but we dig it.
Under the word “risk-taker” in the dictionary, you’re likely to find a photo of Matthew Rorick. Through his one-man-operation, Forlorn Hope, he is constantly experimenting with new grapes and techniques, handcrafting small batches of new and interesting wines. So if you’re hesitating at the idea of drinking rosé in the “off-season,” just channel some Rorick spirit and open a bottle of his ‘Kumo to Amé’ rosé, made from a blend of Portuguese grapes with Barbera, and Syrah (you know, the average California field blend). It’s fresh and easy, with raspberry-cranberry fruit and a touch of orange blossom.
When it comes to this delicious, off-dry rosé sparkler, too much is just not enough. Made in the methode ancestrale, in which a wine is bottled and capped before it is finished fermenting, making it sparkling, this blend of Gamay and Poulsard is drink-it-through-a-straw good. Topped with cotton candy-colored bubbles, it tastes of orange marmalade and juicy strawberries and rainbows and sunshine and happiness. The sweetness is balanced, with a lip-smacking finish, and it’s just begging to be invited to your next wine-and-cheese night.
No rosé line-up would be complete without a bottle of rosé Champagne, of course, and the Chartogne-Taillet rosé will have you dreaming of summertime. It’s reminiscent of warm-weather picnics with strawberries growing fragrant in the sun, with just a touch of juicy melon and chalky minerality to finish. Best of all, this is a bit of a fuller-bodied rosé Champagne, making it even better with indulgent winter dishes, especially slow-roasted duck.