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White wines for winter

Friday - 12/2/2011, 4:36pm  ET

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

We all know that when the weather turns a bit chilly, the first wine we think of – well, the first wine I think of – is red wine.

But what about white wines for winter weather?

Most of us think of white wines as warmer weather companions. But there are many white wines on the market that can be enjoyed all year long and, in my opinion, are even more enjoyable when the temperature scoots down a notch or two.

Like wool scarves and flannel sheets, big white wines can provide warmth and contentment. Pair them with comfort foods such as white bean chili or roasted chicken and you have a dynamic duo akin to Sean and Hillary.

The requisite characteristics that I look for in winter whites are simple but precise. It’s all about structure, structure, structure. I look for white wines that have weight and density in the mouth and deeper fruit notes centered around pear, peach and tropical fruits.

They are typically Rhone varietals, such as Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne, but can also include dense Semillon and creamy Chardonnays.

One of my favorite winter whites is the 2010 d’Arenberg Hermit Crab Viognier/Marsanne Blend from McLaren Vale, Australia. The wonderfully rich wine is packed with tropical fruit characteristics, orange marmalade, honeysuckle and white flowers. It would pair beautifully with fish tacos. $18

The French version of the aforementioned wine is the 2010 Gonnet Cotes du Rhone Blanc from the Rhone Valley region. A blend of Roussanne and Viognier, it has a floral nose featuring scents of acacia and honeysuckle. The mouthfeel is juicy, featuring ripe pear and notes of canned peaches. The structure is wonderfully solid for a wine at this price – just $14. Pair it with grilled halibut or seared scallops.

Now for the American version of the white Rhone invasion, the 2009 Treana Viognier-Marsanne blend from the Central Coast of California is perfect to cuddle up with on a cold night. It displays a characteristic floral nose with aromas of orange blossom and white flowers. Hefty flavors of ripe peach, pear, pineapple have a beautiful weight in the mouth. The wine has excellent balance and complexity, and notes of honey on the back of the finish keep you come back for another sip. Perfect with roasted chicken. $23

While I may like my Chardonnays naked in the summer, I want them fully clothed in oak for winter consumption. It is the oak aging that gives Chardonnay wines their depth and richness. The 2008 Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay from Napa Valley, California is an excellent example of, with a rich, complex style that bends towards opulent without being excessive. It has layers of ripe fig, honeydew melon and juicy pear on the front of the palate. Notes of hazelnut and spicy nutmeg glide in on the remarkably balanced finish. It is a big white wine in search for a lobster dinner. $30

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