The White Wine in Winter

The White Wine in Winter David Rosengarten


In this country, we often err in judging things by color…and that applies to wine, too!

As the summer begins, so does the vinous drumbeat: white wine, white wine, white wine! The stuff is cold. It’s refreshing. It may not perfectly match a huge hunka steak off the grill…but man is it going to cool you down! As if the point of drinking wine were regulating your internal thermometer.

In the winter, sentiments run in the opposite direction: red wine, red wine, red wine! “This is winter-weight wine,” someone once said of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and there we go again, summoning wine bottles when we should be summoning the furnace custodian.

I just wanted to take my stand right here, right now, on the cuspy cusp of winter:

Some of winter’s best and most typical foods go BETTER with white wine than they do with red wine! Remain color-blind–or color-flexible–and your gastronomic life in the seasons will be improved.

Here are seven great, iconic winter foods that I love to drink with white wine:

OYSTERS. Of course it would be oysters at the top of the list. And nothing supplies the liquid contrast to a briny, seafood-bright oyster like a glass of shimmering white wine. Its higher acids slash the oyster’s salt, and its chalky minerality (in a wine like Chablis) perfectly supports the marine-ish minerality of the oyster. I was in France just after Thanksgiving this year, where on two occasions I punctuated my brilliant French oysters (cold-weather oysters are best!) with 2012 Muscadet. Perfection! Village Chablis with a little age works as well, as does really dry and crisp Sancerre. And, as you may know, I never count dry Riesling out of any race!


SOUPS. It is always tricky to match soup with wine, because liquid on liquid seems kinda redundant. If the soup is thin (like consommé), the classic solution has always been dry Madeira, which, with its extra alcohol, works up a bit of a texture contrast. Much easier, however, is the realm of creamy-thick soup. And the easy choice is…white wine! Imagine your ivory-colored bowl of lobster bisque–or even cream of chicken soup, or butternut squash soup! Creamy concoctions and white wines are the best friends in the world. Red wines make you feel as if something’s about to curdle in your stomach!


ROASTED CHESTNUTS. Sing! “Chestnuts roasting in the micro-wave…” Or any modern version you want. But the steamy, floury, slightly sweet comfort of chestnuts is a classic holiday experience. Could you find a red wine to work with them? I’ve no doubt, as long as it has a little sugar to match the chestnuts’ sweetness. But why not go for the obvious? Chestnuts always make me think of the east side of France…and the sweet-sour play of any white Alsatian varietal…particular Gewurztraminer, Riesling or Pinot Gris…would be ideal. Also look for other off-dry whites of the world: from Germany, from the Loire, from California. I’m a big fan of dry-ish Gewurztraminer from Long Island, particularly when made by Lenz.


WINTER VEGETABLES. For vegetarians, a staple in winter. For the rest of us–a frequent occupant of dinner side dishes. Parsnips, celery root, turnips, carrots, etc.–all the wonderful, earthy, slightly sweet things that come out of the frozen ground. And there’s that hint of sugar again…which goes so well with off-dry whites. Sure, you could bury a turnip in a big, dry Rhône Valley red–but I don’t think it’ll be a pleasant experience!


CHOUCROUTE. There is no winter food that I look forward to more than a big pile of varied sausages, riding a wave of elegant, finely cut sauerkraut. This is how they do it in Alsace, and they do it right. Sure, if you leave the sauerkraut out of it, and offer only sausages…yes, some of the world’s light-and-fruity reds, served young, will do well. Lyons garlic sausage and 2013 Beaujolais? YUM! But once you add the sauerkraut factor, with its high degree of acidity, white wine is de rigeur. The acid of an Alsace Riesling, or a dry German one, matches perfectly the acid of the sauerkraut…AND, at the same time…buzz-saws through the fattiness of the pork. I have eaten choucroute a hundred times in France…and have never ONCE seen a red wine poured!


MEAT STEWS. Here’s the biggest surprise of the list–for certainly everyone’s first thought concerning stew is red wine, particularly a stew like Boeuf Bourguignon. But I’ll tell you a funny story. About 20 years ago I did a tasting with the legendary English cooking teacher Anne Willan, who owns a great school in Burgundy. I wanted to get her take on the best wine for Boeuf Bourguignon. I made the dish, and served two dozen wines of all kinds…including red Burgundy…including the red Burgundy that was used in the cooking! Her favorite (and mine)? A California Pinot Blanc from Monterey! If you’ve not tried this, please put a pretty big, multi-dimensional white wine next to your next meat stew. At cool room temperature is even better. Lots of red wines thin out in this role, but not a well-built white. I’ve tried it scores of time with good white Bordeaux, with traditional-style white Rioja, even with Assyrtiko from Santorini (on a lamb stew!) Great stuff.


FATTY ROASTS. Well, I’m not exactly renouncing my winter prime ribs of beef with red wine. But as the meat gets fattier–lamb, pork, duck, goose–the odds go up for rich and acidic white wines. Did you know that the old theory of red-wine tannin cutting fat has now been disproven? These scientists conclude that it’s salt that cuts fat! And this quasi-scientist concludes that acid works too! AND…I LOVE the peachy-fruity flavors of a wine like Riesling on top of roast poultry! If you’re roasting a duck this winter…do try it with something like a dry Riesling from a rich German region like the Pfalz!


And…may at least some of your Christmases be white!

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