On a recent brisk winter evening, author and wine importer Terry Theise spoke before a wine dinner at Ecco Buckhead. Eight wines were paired with four courses, and every glass was filled with white wine … in the coldest part of winter.
Stodgy, outmoded convention holds that red wine is for winter, and white wine is for summer. Those big reds with higher alcohol content, rich body and bracing tannins do warm you from the inside, but there is no true red wine season, no hard rule that whites can’t be just as pleasing at the winter table.
“Beauty is crucial,” Theise said. “It is indispensable to our lives, not necessarily exalted or spiritual, but whatever strikes you as beautiful.” He experiences the world of beauty with wine as a vector, and his book, “What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), aims to make people feel comfortable with wine.
When it comes to seasonality of wine, dogma be damned. Theise sees soul as more important, and his first love is Riesling. Sipping a 2017 Müller-Catoir Riesling from Ecco’s list, he told me, “You are going to have the biggest, slobbering crush on it.”
More often, he said, “we crave the refreshment value of white wines, never forgetting that they can range from snappy and bracing to sumptuous and rich in their own rights. It’s a fantasy that reds are more ‘serious.’”
Melissa Davis, a certified sommelier and beverage director of the forthcoming Hazel Jane’s Wine & Coffee, is impressed by white wine’s flexibility. “Some young whites are already full of depth and destruction with wild minerality, while others age glamorously to the point of savory,” she said. “A good white wine can have just as much opulence and depth as many red wines can.”
Her love for whites will show on the wine list at Hazel Jane’s. “I want to help people discover things they didn’t know they would love, and have some comfort wines,” she said, like the 2017 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner from Alto Adige in Italy, a crowd pleaser. “It certainly has a brightness to the acidity, but it’s balanced out by great notes of orange blossom and a creamy texture that will definitely please a winter palate.”
The 2014 Cave Caloz Haida Paien from Switzerland is another surprise attack. “This wine bounces all over your palate, from a touch of acidity, to richness and ends with a hint of smokiness,” Davis said. “That, to me, sounds like a fireside buddy if I’ve ever seen one.”
“One thing to think about is that wine regions located in really cold areas are probably far more used to drinking white wine in cold months than those in more agreeable climates,” said advanced sommelier Eric Crane. “They have that natural edge in these situations.”
He is especially fond of Riesling. “It’s my all-time favorite for cold weather,” he said. “It works so well with richer and heavier foods, because of the grape’s naturally high and breathtaking acidity.”
Look for styles from Alsace, France, or from the Mosel River Valley in Germany. “They have that gorgeous kiss of sweetness that lovingly complements slow-roasted and earthy flavors,” he said.
“If we think of wine as an additional flavor component we are adding to a particular dish, we can very intuitively understand how whites are precisely suited for some winter dishes,” said Andrés Loaiza, general manager and head sommelier at Aria. “Take crispy Brussels sprouts with Calabrian chiles — reach for a wine with lemony notes. More generally, when I look for versatile whites for winter, I look for fuller, textured wines without overt oak profiles to complement hardier winter flavors.”
Loaiza’s winter selections include a flinty, earthy 2016 Suavia Monte Carbonare Soave Classico from Veneto, Italy. It’s perfect with Aria’s celery root soup with black truffles. And, “the 50-year-old Chardonnay vines and savvy winemaking give us a champagne that is complex, lifted, mineral, yeasty, nutty and versatile,” he said of J.L Vergnon Conversation, from Les Mesnil-Sur-Oger, France.
Beverage Director Brad Tolleson sees white wines always in season at Decatur’s Brush Sushi Izakaya. With a focus on having the freshest seafood, wines such as Angelo Negro’s Arneis from Roero are super popular.
“It has a funky, lemon-sorbet-meets-cider flavor profile that works to elevate the flavor profile of all nigiri, from lighter white fish like kinmedai (golden eyed snapper) to rich and fatty o-toro (bluefin tuna belly),” Tolleson said.
White wines in winter can be an escape in a glass. Flavors and aromas of ripe, tropical fruit can transport you to a warmer climate and sunnier days. A sun-kissed, crisp Mediterranean white can take you to those places when the weather turns frigid.
At Add Stem Seeds and Everything, the pop-up wine bar that he and Juan F. Cortes (Restaurant Eugene, Atlas) present Thursday nights at the restaurant, they’ve had just as much success with white wines in the winter as during the warmer months. A favorite right now is Olivier Pithon’s Mon P’Tit Pithon 2010, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Macabeo, and Vermentino from the Cotes Catalan, the hills in the border between France and Spain.
“The aroma of this wine is very rich, with lots of warm tropical citrus notes and ripe mango and pineapple. Once you taste it, the complexity of the wine shines through. It’s nutty and earthy and rich, reminiscent of curry and satay,” Cortes said.
In winter, look for white wines with richer body, bold character, and stronger spices and aromatics. A big, ripe, oaky Chardonnay is well-suited for winter and rich, creamy dishes or roast chicken. “Other grapes that work well with richer foods are Champagne, the planet’s best food group,” sommelier Crane said. Blanc de blancs tend to have searing high levels of acidity, which works well with so many foods.
“Why should you drink white wine in the winter?” Theise asked. “Because you should pay less attention to the season than you do to your meal, and to your spur-of-the-moment wish to drink whatever you damn please!”
Ecco Buckhead. 3393 Peachtree Road NE, Atlanta. 404-816-4553, buckhead.ecco-atlanta.com.
Hazel Jane’s Wine and Coffee. 670 DeKalb Ave., Atlanta (spring opening).
Aria. 490 E. Paces Ferry Road NE, Atlanta. 404-233-7673, aria-atl.com.
Brush Sushi Izakaya. 316 Church St., Decatur. 678-949-9412, brushatl.com.
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