The winter months are upon us and with the cold weather settling in, it's the perfect time to crack open a bottle of old Bordeaux or a hearty Hermitage. While I would be the first to join you in a glass of either of those, there are some fabulous white wines from some of France’s most prestigious regions that are begging to be drunk this winter. Stretching from the most northerly wine-making region in France (Champagne) all the way down to the beautiful Mediterranean coastal vineyards in Roussillon, here are five French whites you can add to your drinking regimen this winter.
1. Blanc de Noirs – Champagne
(blahn d nWAHr)
Often overlooked for anything less than a special occasion, Champagne can be a great weeknight drinker if you’re looking for something with a little zest or are just flat out of pairing ideas. Champagne is made from a blend of Pinot Noir (for fruitiness) and Chardonnay (for acidity) and finished with varying levels of sweetness.
This winter, look for Champagne's labeled “Blanc de Noirs.” These wines are going to be made from Pinot Noir and/or a grape you may have never heard of, Pinot Meunier (pee-no moon-YAY). Don’t be alarmed as you pour this wine and see that it’s white (Blanc) even though it’s made from black (noir) grapes (get it!?). Blanc de Noirs Champagne has a more overt and expressive aroma and on the palate, you’ll find it to be more powerful and fruity with a bit more tannin than you might be used to from Champagne. This makes it the perfect bottle to pop open to celebrate the season’s first snow.
2. Gewurztraminer – Alsace
I’m a sucker for the wines of Alsace. From a crisp, dry Riesling, to a rich and round Gewurztraminer, the wines from this region are always in stock at my house. Gewurztraminer (spelled without the umlaut in Alsace) in particular is excellent on a cool, winter night. This wine’s viscosity and richness is sure to warm your belly as you contemplate its long finish. This “Noble” grape variety can be finished with residual sugar (RS) unfortunately because there is no law in Alsace governing RS levels in Gewurztraminer, sweetness levels can fall in a wide spectrum. Many producers have been kind enough to provide a “sweetness-o-meter” so when choosing a bottle, be sure to check the back of those labels to see if you’re lucky enough to find one.
NOTE: If you’ve got a sweet tooth, look for “Vendanges Tardives” or “Sélection de Grain Nobles” on the label. These dessert wines will contain a considerable amount of residual sugar (RS).
3. Meursault – Côte de Beaune – Bourgogne
Burgundy is one of the most daunting regions in the world to approach. The region is home to hundreds of appellations and countless producers that can make even the most advanced sommeliers tremble. Meursault is located pretty much smack in the middle of the Côte de Beaune and its production is dominated by white wine at 96.5%. Made from Chardonnay the wines from this region are big and powerful and a good vintage can age for decades. When enjoyed young (a wine only a few years old) expect notes of apple, almonds, and oatmeal. As they age you can expect a delectable palette of hazelnuts, cinnamon, and honey. Sometimes referred to as le gout d'or (drops of gold) this wine is medium to full-bodied and will satisfy on the coldest of nights.
The only downside is the price tag. Often hard to find under $60 this wine is certainly not one you’re drinking every night. However, if you have a winter birthday, anniversary or you’re looking to impress at a holiday gathering, treat yourself, and those lucky enough to call you a friend, with a bottle of Meursault.
4. Condrieu – Northern Rhône Valley
The Northern Rhône Valley is known for its incredible red wines. The steep granite slopes and south-facing vineyards of Hermitage prove to be perfect, albeit difficult conditions for the Syrah grape. A little further North however lies a region called Condrieu which produces only white wine from 100% the Viognier grape.
This medium to full-bodied wine holds its own against the cold weather due to its low acidity and good viscosity. Aromas of apricot, peach, almond and honey will have you ready for spring while the weight and finish of this wine will keep you locked in to a cool evening. Suggest a glass of Condrieu this Thanksgiving with a tart cranberry sauce; I think you’ll be pleased with the results.
5. Rivesaltes - Roussillon
Rich, round and full of sweetness, this dessert wine from France’s most southerly wine-making region is the ultimate cold night sipper. Located near the Mediterranian coast about 30 miles from the border of Spain, this region makes red and white Vin doux Naturels (VDN). VDN is a fortified wine, much like Port, and must be at least 15% alcohol! Although there are very few dry VDN many are finished with anywhere between 4.5%-10% residual sugar (RS). The result is a high alcohol, very sweet wine.
The next time you’re craving a glass of Brandy this winter, opt for a glass of Rivesaltes instead; I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Because it’s fortified, these wines can age for decades (a couple of years ago I had a bottle from 1927!), and can be surprisingly affordable. With aromas of peach, almond, and honey and flavors of caramel, butterscotch, and toffee this wine, on it’s own or paired with some dark chocolate, will leave you begging for another glass.
Don’t let the red wines steal the show this winter. There are so many great white wines out there that can (and sometimes should) be enjoyed in the colder months. The wines mentioned in this article work well, I believe, in the winter months but at the end of the day wine is meant to be enjoyed anytime of year. So get out to your local wine shop, see what you can find, and as always enjoy responsibly this holiday season.
Wine Guy Tip: Looking for a good stocking stuffer for the wine lover in your life? Grab a pack of Wine Disc’s to throw in their stocking and get clean pours every time.
Grayson Null FWS
I’m a (semi) normal guy who likes drinking wine. I recently passed my French Wine Scholar certification and am currently obsessed with French wines.
Follow Grayson Null @meetthenulls