As winter chills begin to thaw and both meals and evenings grow lighter and spring is just around the corner, it's the perfect time to pop corks (or twist screw-caps) and explore the ultra-versatile world of white wine. Refreshing and crisp or rich and round, white wine is enjoyed all year long, of course, but the warmer weather of spring seems to call for the bright, zippy character they so often offer. Here are five categories of white wine that promise to make a delicious impression on food and friends alike.
Ahhh...The cool-climate zone of Chablis sits just two hours east of Paris and constitutes the northernmost of the five key growing regions of Burgundy. Chablis covers over 13,000 acres and boasts more than 300 estates, representing a third of Burgundy’s white wine production. Like the southern part of the Champagne region, just to the north, Chablis has Kimmeridgian soil, limestone laced with fossilized seashells, which imparts an unmistakable fresh-faced minerality to its wines. Made from 100 percent chardonnay, with evocative layers that range from rich, round textures to lean, crisp characteristics, it is a contemplative wine with an always welcome complexity and versatility.
Recommended Bottles: La Chablisienne La Pierrelee 2015 ($18); Simonnet-Febvre 2015 ($20); Domaine Denis Race 1er Cru Montmains 2014 ($22); Joseph Drouhin Vaudon 2015 ($22); Domaine William Fèvre 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2015 ($52).
Food Pairing: Classic Chablis pairing partners include oysters, caviar, lobster, stuffed crab, and any shellfish in general, with a squeeze of lemon. Salmon — smoked, poached, or scattered with dill and grilled — also stands up exceptionally well to the wine, as do halibut and cod. Earthier flavors like mushroom risotto or herb-infused pasta sauces also partner up with the high acidity and mineral-laden character of Chablis.
Alsace and northern Italy’s Alto Adige are two regions known for putting forth exceptional examples of this wine, rich and viscous with a bit of weight and body on the palate. These northern climates also provide plenty of bright acidity while keeping the grape's traditional lychee and spice aromatics on the upswing.
Recommended Bottles: Lucien Albrecht Reserve 2016 ($18); Hugel 2014 ($20); and Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés 2015 ($25), all from Alsace. Elena Walch Kastelaz 2015 ($36) and J. Hofstätter Kolbenhof 2015 ($40), both from Alto Adige.
Food Pairing: Able to stand up to all sorts of spicy Asian fare — Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian — along with pork, duck, salmon, and more, off-dry styles of gewürztraminer promise unbelievable pairing potential. When the food carries a dash of heat, the subtle residual sugar in an off-dry bottle will tame it with a touch of sweetness. Gewürztraminer is also perfect for accompanying a cheese plate, with favorite matches being Muenster and Roquefort.
A classic from the northern Rhône, where it’s the grape of the famed Condrieu, viognier carries some serious aromatic voltage, leaning heavily into apricot, peach, and sunny-scented flowers, like a gorgeous perfume that keeps on keepin’ on. Typically made with a full body, high alcohol level, and an almost oily viscosity that builds a rich, round palate profile with silky textures and cerebral leanings, viognier is a go-to grape for welcoming the season.
Food Pairing: Viognier gives butter- and cream-based dishes a leg up with its richly woven complementary textures, often showing its own buttery character (thanks to oak influences). Versatile with all sorts of seafood (crab, lobster, fish, shellfish), along with poultry and pork dishes, this is a wine that makes its mark on both decadent and delicate fare.
While most of us are familiar with traditional port based on red-wine grapes, Portugal’s white port gives voice to such fun and funky white wine grapes of the region as malvasia fina, verdelho, códega, gouveio, and rabigato — varieties often harvested together as a field blend. White port is full-bodied with alcohol levels in the same zone as those of traditional ports, around 20 percent. The wines can be crafted in a range of styles, from bone-dry to sweet, and show characteristic nutty nuances, with dried fruit concentration along with citrus-infused aromas laced with honey.
Food Pairing: To optimize its flavors and aromas, serve white port between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Enjoy it as a delicious apéritif or partnered with smoked salmon, pork sliders, any sort of shellfish, or, for sweeter white port styles, cheeses, fruit-themed desserts, or candied nuts.
White Wine Blends
There’s power and serious synergy in many of the world’s best white wine blends. From Bordeaux blanc (typically a heady combination of sauvignon blanc and sémillon) to unusual combinations like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc laced with nebbiolo (as in the rare Valtellina white Ca'Brione) to Rhône-inspired whites blending two or more regional grape varieties like viognier, marsanne, roussanne, and clairette, these wines gain their quality from the use of complementary grapes that serve to support the balance of the blend. What one grape may lack the other fills in, resulting in a wine marriage that’s sustained on varietal strengths.
Château Olivier Bordeaux Blanc 2014 ($40).
Food Pairing: The beauty of layered white wine blends is their exceptional versatility. When it comes to ideal menu matching, classic “white wine foods" like poultry, seafood, cream and butter sauces, and soft cheeses play particularly well with a wide variety of white blends.