This article was mentioned in the Beverage & Spirits column (page 10) in the March/April 2010 issue of Chef Magazine.
White wines can be a refreshing change from heavy red wines even during cooler weather. If you're looking for options beyond Chardonnay, Riesling or Pinot Gris, here are some white wines rich enough to complement hearty winter fare.
Wines from Rhône grapes. Some of the richest whites produced in the U.S. are transplants from the Rhône Valley, primarily Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. Although Viognier has yet to become a household name, probably because it is hard to pronounce (vee-oh-nee-yay), great Viognier has viscous floral, peach and apricot flavors, and the best Viogniers finish with a kiss of lime peel. The Northern Rhône's Condrieu (Viognier) is highly prized and very pricey. Pair Viognier with confit, foie gras, pork, lobster, citrus-based preps and sweet-pepper dishes.
The other Rhône varietals, Marsanne and Roussanne, haven't captured wine drinkers' imaginations yet, and that's a shame. Their complex flavor spectrum ranges from honey to Fuji apple to orange jam, and they have the body to stand up to pork roast, game birds and fried oysters.
New World picks: Amalie Robert Viognier 2008 (Oregon), E. Sellers Estate Blanc Grenache Blanc/Roussanne/Marsanne 2008 (California) Jazz Cellars Viognier 2008 (California), Griffin Creek Viognier 2006 (Oregon), J. Scott Roussanne 2008 (Washington), Kindred Winery Marsanne/Roussanne/Viognier 2007 (California), Penner Ash Viognier 2008 (Oregon), Rockblock Viognier 2007 (Oregon), Seven of Hearts Chatte d’ Avignon Viognier/Roussanne 2008 (Oregon), Silvan Ridge Viognier Reserve 2008 (Oregon), Sol Rouge Gypsy Blanc Marsanne/Roussanne/Viognier 2007 (California), Tercero Grenache Blanc 2008 (California), Vie Roussanne 2007 (California)Chenin Blanc. Another very underappreciated grape is Chenin Blanc. Its home is in France's Loire region, where it is called Vouvray. In the U.S., Chenin has been called a "workhorse" grape (not a very appealing description), because it was used for many years as a blending grape for jug wines. However, some of the world's greatest sweet wines are made in the Loire from the Chenin grape. In the U.S., Chenin Blanc is made into a medium-bodied, dry or slightly sweet wine. Dry Chenin can pair well with fish and chicken. The sweeter styles of Chenin Blanc can balance the spicy heat of some Asian and Latin American cuisines--try with ceviche. The medium-dry styles can also pair well with cream sauces and rich dishes like charcuterie, boudin blanc, creamy chicken stews and fried preps.
Old World pick: Remy Pannier Vouvray 2007 (France)Italian and Spanish whites for winter. Although we are making many world-class white wines here in the U.S., don't forget the great Italian and Spanish whites that are rich enough for cool weather fare. From Italy, try Campogrande Orvieto 2008, Guerrieri-Rizzardi Soave Classico 2008, J. Santa Cristina Orvieto Campogrande 2008 or Tessari Soave Classico "Grisela" 2008. And from Spain, try Hermanos Lurton Rueda 2008.
New World picks: Graziano Chenin Blanc 2007 (California), Daniel Gehrs Chenin Blanc 2008 (California), Baron Herzog Chenin Blanc 2008 (California)
Blends. If you can't decide which white wine you'd like to try next, some domestic winemakers have saved you the trouble by blending a variety of white grapes, such as Airlie Seven Pinot Gris/Riesling/Gewurztraminer/Pinot Blanc 2008 (Oregon), Francis Tannahill "Jack" Pinot Blanc /Pinot Gris/Chardonnay 2005 (Oregon) or Murrietta's Well White Meritage Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (California).
And if you have any of these marvelous wines left over until spring or summer, you can serve them out on the patio.
Marlene Rossman is a corporate wine studies consultant and instructor for the University of California-Irvine Extension corporate wine program.