Put Down That Glass: You're Drinking White Wine All Wrong

Who says you can't drink white wine in winter? Before you do, there are a few rules of thumb.

Noga Tarnopolsky
Noga Tarnopolsky
Bottle of white wine displayed in an untouched snowdrift as it is chilled.
Bottle of white wine displayed in an untouched snowdrift as it is chilled.Credit: Dreamstime
Noga Tarnopolsky
Noga Tarnopolsky

There were some freezing days here, and I huddled indoors typing away in half-mits, trying to figure out where the drafts were less prominent in my new apartment.

I was thinking of white wine.

Not the iced bottle cloudy with condensation, but of what you think about when you eat, in winter, let's say, a fine sautéed filet of fish. Or lentil stew.

I'm not going to be discussing what wine you might want to drink with that fish or that stew, but instead, of the effect you are looking for: something savory, something with layers of flavor and a variety of textures that satisfies but does not overwhelm. The effect I'm looking for is of a deep pleasure that doesn't weigh you down.

The quintessential wintry white is a sparkling wine. That's because the yeastiness of a great champagne imbues it with an enticing umami-like depth that contrasts with its effervescence, complemented by round fruit, so that, if all goes well, you just feel like drinking another.

In general, when looking for a complex, provocative but unobtrusive white wine, we are looking for a blend.

There is a time and place – maybe a stoop on a late summer afternoon – when a clear, light varietal wine is just what the doctor ordered. Chablis was invented for this very moment.

And at the opposite end of the spectrum, sometimes you're looking for a wowzer of a white, a golden wine that stops you in your tracks, like the Golan Heights Winery's legendary Katzrin Chardonnay: almost molten butter, with a gorgeous deep woodiness laced with exotic fruit.

But thinking of white wines in winter, we'd almost certainly be looking for a robust blend – maybe a white Bordeaux like the Chteau Villa Bel-Air Graves. (I'm keeping clear of politics in this column, but it is worth noting that increased French immigration to Israel in recent years has wrought a corresponding growth in the importation of Bordeaux.)

Or a white Rioja, like the Marques de Murrieta Capellania Reserva, an exception to the rule of blends, which, though 100 percent macabeo grapes – aka viura – is complex and understated and lasting. (The origin of the macabeo's name remains a mystery to me.)

But back to blends. I'm not inclined to look only at the classics blends. A recent favorite is Chanson Blanc, produced by the Judean Hills' Clos-de-Gat winery (with offices in what was Yitzhak Rabin's command building when he headed the Harel Brigade in 1948).

Chanson is interesting because working with three noble, traditional grapes – chardonnay, semillon and viognier – it creates an entirely new thing that unmistakably evokes familiar flavors – but different. These varietals are not usually mixed together, and definitely not in equal parts.

The winery's aim here was to create a new/old product out of a new/old Mediterranean terroir, and they'd done it. Plus, it has an irresistible light effervescence.

In winter, you want a white wine that stays with you and makes you think. When it's cold, when you are thinking of a warm dinner, what you are looking for is a multifaceted wine, one that you'll keep in your mouth a second longer than you normally would because it feels as if in that second, the flavor is changing and developing.

It is.

There are a few rules of thumb:

1. Ask yourself what tastes and scents you love most. Butter? Flint? Beezwax? Wood? Flowers?

2. Go wild. Try any white blend and make sure you pay attention to which grapes it's made from and in what proportion. See how long it has been kept in barrels, if at all.

3. Take note of what combos appeal to you most, and go forth from there. We still have a few months of winter weather ahead of us, and a fine white uplifts.

The universal rule for white wine is: do not overchill. The cold will mute the aromas and flavors of your wine. If you are drinking anything other than champagne, take it out of the fridge and open it 15 minutes before you plan to serve.

Oh – and welcome to the new wine column at Haaretz in English!

Please send me your comments, questions and requests. My hope is that this column will become a conversation about everything connected with wine.

Noga Tarnopolsky has two decades of experience covering international politics. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, the Washington Post and El País, among others.

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