Winter is here, and which wine is most suitable to the season? Luckily, there are many wines that fit the bill. The range from crisp French Gewurztraminers that will please any palate (from the once-a-year wine drinkers to the most savvy wine snob) to rich, full bodied Syrahs from California and surprisingly delicious Rieslings from Northern Germany. Don’t forget the Champagne, for what would winter be without a little celebration?
This wine from the Alsace region of France (along the German border) can be a mouthful to say, but it carries big rewards as a winter wine, a perfect accompaniment to Thanksgiving dinner and the rich flavors of turkey, cranberry sauce, and corn pudding. Better than that, Gewurztraminer is likely to please those most difficult of wine drinkers, the once-a-year club who don’t like anything “too sour.” The lingering sweetness of Gewurztraminer will please not only this crowd, but those who adore rich red wines as well. It’s never cloying, but rich, crisp, and well balanced. A few good choices in this category include the following vintages:
Helfrich Gewurztraminer 2007, $15
A classic Alsatian wine, this Gewurztraminer is fresh, fruit-filled, and deliciously fragrant with notes of pear. It has a nice full body for a white wine and a pleasing finish on the tongue.
This varietal thrives in Alsace with its dry, cool temperatures and a strong minerality in the soils. The Helfrich Noble wines come from the Couronne d’Or (“Golden Crown”), an association of winemakers and vineyards in the center of the Alsace region. The area’s grapes are grown on sloped hills that take advantage of the sun from a southerly exposure, where they are trained to grow upward toward the light and heat. The soil is thin and rocky, giving the wine its mineral undertone.
Lucien Albrecht Reserve Gewurztraminer 2008, $22
With an 89 rating from “Wine & Spirits” for the 2005 and a 90 point rating for the 2006 bottling, wine lovers know that they are in good hands for 2008 (a good year for Gewurztraminer) as well. Bursting with the aromas of honey, roses, and tropical fruits, this slightly dry Gewurztraminer leaves the taste of spicy fruit on the tongue. Perfect alone or when served up with poultry dishes (like creamed chicken or homemade turkey pot pie), this wine sings.
Columbia Winery Gewurztraminer 2007, $12
For a domestic take on this French wine, Columbia Valley in Washington state is a good choice. Rated 89 points by “Wine Spectator,” their Gewurztraminer is “Bright, zippy and off dry, with tangy grapefruit, nectarine and pineapple flavors that show restraint even as they linger on the expressive finish,” says one critic, and perfect for immediate consumption. This golden hued wine has notes of spice and flowers, with a hint of cinnamon. With the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity, this wine goes well with Asian dishes, fruit, cheese, and poultry.
The Columbia Winery, where this Gewurztraminer originates, is the creation of a group of University of Washington professors who wanted to grow old world vines in the Pacific Northwest, and have succeeded brilliantly.
Another good choice for a crisp sweet wine that balances well with fish, poultry (like chicken and turkey) is Riesling. A particularly good choice is
Schloss Saarstein Riesling Kabinett 2007, $25
This wine comes from the most northerly vineyards in Europe. Here, the slate-laden soil drains quickly and stores heat well. The vines (attached to stakes) are so steeply planted that when workers tend them, they must hang onto ropes as they are lowered along the sides of hills where they must try to avoid falling into the river below. All this treacherous labor, however, produces a wine so delicate and lovely that it nearly defies a belief it is so difficult to create.
This vintage has a 91 point rating from “Wine Enthusiast” and has a lovely fruity nose with notes of kiwi fruit and pear. It’s elegant, light, and is a well-balanced mix of sweetness and acidity.
Napa Valley Syrahs
The Syrah (sometimes called Shiraz) has been a worldwide success, both in countries overseas like France, Australia, and South Africa, as well as here in the United States’ Napa Valley. It’s a deep rich wine with noticeable tannins and a jammy berry flavor that is a great match for winter and the dished traditionally served in cold weather climates, like stews and hardy meat dishes. While occasional wine drinkers may find this too bold a wine, for those who prefer red wines with a lot of body and fruit, this is a great wine. Some great wines from Napa Valley include the following:
Lagier Meredith Mount Veeder Syrah 2005, $48
“Wine Advocate” gave this luscious wine a 95 point rating, definitely a special wine with a slightly higher price tag to match. A deep reddish purple, this wine has notes of blackberries and blueberries, with a spicy (peppery) finish. Its smooth texture makes this one of the vineyard’s best offerings, and even better, it is good to drink now or can be held onto for 5-10 years and be just as nice.
Burgess Syrah 2005, $25
From this family owned and operated vineyard in Napa Valley comes a wine with traditional notes of spice and blackberries that has a smooth feel in the mouth, as well as a richness of fruit.
Grown on the eastern face of Howell Mountain and the floor of Yountville’s valley, this family vineyard limits its yields to produce the best grapes for its Syrah. The property has been in winemakers hands since the 1880s, but the Tom Burgess and his family took over the property in the early 1970s and has followed his belief that the grapes grown and wine produced should match the terroir. Although Burgess Cellars’ flagship is Cabarnet Sauvignon, their Syrah is very good as well.
Joseph Phelps Hyde Vineyards 2006, $50
Grown in the Caneros area of Napa Valley, the grapes that make this great wine are organically farmed with a firm, sustainable approach that encourages the wild bird population that can be seen here, including hawks, owls, and kites. It’s dry farmed to conserve water, and weeds are burned or tilled.
The rolling hills of the region and this vineyard have given birth to a Syrah that is bright and firm, with notes of plum, caramel, and tobacco. It’s velvety with a great texture on the palate and rich earthy flavors that gives it a long finish.
Finally, what would winter be without New Year celebrations and champagne? There’s no better wine than a true French champagne (although there are plenty of nice sparkling wines). Champagne is both a region in France and a method of making wine. With so many champagnes out there, and many familiar names, there may be one less familiar but equally deserving of attention:
Louis Roederer Brut 2003, $70
This is a vintage champagne that’s been highly rated by the wine trade (it got 95 points from “Wine and Spirits,” 93 points from “Wine Enthusiast,” and 93 points from “The Wine News”), but Louis Roederer also makes non-vintage champagnes (at lesser prices) that are equally delicious for their quality.
The 2003 Brut is a creamy champagne with a full fruit mouth and bursts of fresh summer fruit like peaches and melons. Said “Wine and Spirits,” “It’s hard to imagine a better outcome of the 2003 vintage…[it’s a] compelling wine to enjoy in the sunniness of its youth.”
Whether one prefers white wine or red, full and rich reds or crisp, dry whites, there are wines to suit every palate in the winter season. Whether enjoying wine alone or with a meal, spending a little time getting to know some new winter wines will be well worth the effort.
“Gourmet” October 2009