Winter is upon us once again, and with it, the time to get cozy, and slow the pace down. Perhaps it is a winter wonderland outside your window, or the days are simply cooler and shorter. Regardless of the specifics, one thing is for certain, the right glass of wine (yes even white!) can warm up even the coldest evening. In the winter, we lean towards heartier foods, thicker sweaters, and indoor hibernation. If you have a fireplace, it is probably burning daily. If not, this list of the best winter wines can mimic the glow of the fire.
In the depths of winter, an ice cold white wine is not going to have the same effect as it would mid summer. Instead, the best red and white wines for winter are made from grapes grown in warmer places. These grapes can fully ripen and are brimming with sugar. While this does not necessarily mean a sweet wine, the extra sugar can be converted into alcohol. Higher alcohol wines are fuller in body making them ideal to pair with richer seasonal foods. As well, the higher alcohol will surely warm you up from the inside out! Or, why not seek out a fortified or dessert wine to really raise the heat.
Be sure to check out Top 15 Seasonal Wines for the Fall for ideal serving temperatures to amplify the flavors in your wine.
Best White Wine for the Winter
The exact origins of Gewurztraminer are vague, but it likely comes from the Alps around the German French border. Its name stems from the word Gewürz which means spices and seasoning in German, certainly characteristic of its flavors. In the sunny dry region of Alsace, the grape can develop rich sugars while retaining acidity.
While not actually hot and spicy, Gewurztraminer is certainly aromatic and can often have notes of lychee, rose petals, ginger, or Turkish delight. Gewurztraminer in Alsace ranges from dry to very sweet, so it is useful to check the back label for clues or ask. It is a great wine to have with spicier Thai and Indian dishes, the perfect recipe to stay warm!
Austrian Grüner Veltliner
Grüner Veltiner is most at home in Austria, though it is increasingly being planted in other regions. Grüner, as it is called by fans, often shows zesty notes of lime, white pepper, and an herbaceous quality. Depending on its ripeness and age, it can be highly acidic or smoother and fuller on the palate.
Grüner is a great wine to serve with foods such as asparagus that are hard to pair with other wines. Faithful to the saying “What grows together goes together”, it is also excellent paired with richer foods such as schnitzel and cream based dishes.
Originally grown in the Roman Empire, Viognier almost became extinct in the 1960s! Thankfully it has since been replanted, with great examples found in California, Australia, South Africa, and South America.
Viognier has distinct aromas of fruit and flowers. Wines are usually opulent and full bodied, with peach, apricot, and honeysuckle aromas. When aged in oak, Viognier can be reminiscent of an oaked Chardonnay. Wines are often higher in alcohol, adding to their richness, and of course, making them ideal for winter.
Planted in soils composed of volcanic ash from the nearby Mount Vesuvius, Falanghina is one of Italy’s ancient grapes. It has origins in Ancient Greek and Roman societies, and may have been a part of the famous Roman wine Falernian. Thankfully, local families and winemakers made an effort to conserve it, and we can enjoy it like the Romans.
Falanghina is delicate, but its aromas add fullness and structure to wines. Citrus blossom, almond, and peach are balanced with minerality and medium acidity. It is a great option if you want a complex yet light option to pair with seafood and Mediterranean cuisine. Even better, a glass of Falanghina is the perfect way to add a touch of sunlight to a cold winter day.
Côte du Rhône White Blend
Although the Rhône Valley in France may be more well known for its red and rosé wine, its small production of white wines are a great choice when searching for a winter wine. A variety of grapes can be blended into these wines, such as Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Clairette. The best examples have complex flavors and what can only be described as a luscious texture.
Variations on the blend can now be found elsewhere such as California and Australia. Depending on the origin of the grapes and the ratio of the blend, flavors range. Some examples include lemon, peach, nuts, and brioche. These wines are elegant and best served with creamy winter dishes, poultry, and fish.
Georgian Amber Wine
As recommended in Top 15 Seasonal Wines for Fall, orange wine is also a great option for the winter. In Georgia, white wines made with skin contact from grapes are called amber wines. Indeed they often reflect their name in the color. These wines have traditionally been fermented and aged in clay vessels that are buried underground. You could say the wine has gone through hibernation!
Amber wines are complex, often a touch rustic, and surprisingly tannic for a white wine. These qualities make them excellent to pair with a wide range of foods including bolder dishes.
Best Red Wine for Winter
Californian Petite Sirah
Petite Sirah is not a smaller version of Syrah but actually its offspring! Indeed there is nothing small about this grape and the full bodied dark wines it produces. Its inky color reflects the high level of antioxidants present in wine, so drink up! Also referred to as Durif, it is relatively rare, with most of its vineyards planted in California and other sunny regions like Australia and South America.
Wines are bold and tannic, best enjoyed by the fireplace on a cold winter evening. The flavors are equally warm and include blackberry, black pepper, licorice, and chocolate. Petite Sirah is balanced and concentrated, and its high tannins make it a perfect match for rich fattier dishes.
Tannat is another wine known for its high tannins and antioxidants. Originally from the south west of France, the wines produced here have often been deemed rustic and aggressive due to their tannins. Thankfully the grape has found great success in Uruguay and is now their national grape. Uruguayan Tannat still maintains its structure while being smoother on the palate.
Tannat wines in Uruguay are often characterized by notes of plums, dark chocolate, smoke, licorice, and spices. Similar to other tannic red wines, Tannat is a great pairing for meat, cheese, and hearty winter stews.
Most at home at the southern tip of Italy, Aglianico once dominated its local area. After the phylloxera pest wiped out all the vineyards, it took a while before it was replanted. Thankfully it is grown once again, and considered to be one of the finest red Italian grapes.
Aglianico is full bodied and acidic, and ripens well with notes of earth, leather, cherry, and dark fruits. Intense flavors in this wine demand equally robust foods. Think game meats, strong cheeses, and smoky preparations.
Douro Red Blends
The Douro Valley in Portugal has long been famed for its high quality production of Port. Lesser known but of equally high standard are the dry red wines from the region, known as Tinto Douro. They are made using indigenous grapes also blended in Port. One of these, Touriga Nacional, will soon be included in the fine wines of Bordeaux so it is certainly worth trying the original.
Flavors vary since the wine is a blend, but cinnamon, dark cherry, plum, and ripe berries are often present. The wines are dense and concentrated and are the perfect blanket for your taste buds as temperatures drop. Although Tinto Douro wines are structured and bold, the tannins are silky and smooth. Tinto Douro is a perfect match for game meat and rich savory dishes.
The difficult name might make you hesitate, but it is worth the mouthful to taste this fine red wine from Greece. While some resemblances with Barolo’s prestigious Nebbiolo wines can be noted, it is best to approach Xinomavro in its own right.
Xinomavro is a high acid grape with strong tannins and complex flavors, making bold wines that are impressive especially given the reasonable price. Tomato, sun-dried fruit, earth, anise, and even black olive can all be present in a single sip. Xinomavro is fantastic paired with tomato based dishes, roast meats, and umami vegetables such as mushrooms.
Best Sparkling and Dessert Wines for Winter
Long at the top of any quality dessert wine list, Sauternes develops its flavors thanks to the work of Botrytis, also known as noble rot. While the last thing you may want in your wine is rot, Botrytis has admirable results. It dehydrates grapes, concentrating the sugar and flavors, and adding its own honeysuckle aroma. While Botrytis can occur in many regions, the right balance of humidity and sun must be present to make a good wine. Sauternes is produced in Bordeaux, using grapes you might already be drinking such as Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
Although it is undeniably rich, Sauternes is also high in acid which keeps it balanced. Serve your Sauternes chilled instead of dessert, or pair it with cheese, cream desserts, or even foie gras. Something about its honeyed character and unctuous sweetness will make you imagine you are drinking gold.
Dried raisinated grapes are the foundation of Amarone de Valpolicella, an intense deep wine perfect for the winter season. Another wine greatly enjoyed by the Ancient Romans, Amarone is made in the north of Italy. The grapes are picked and then dried on shelves or straw mats for a few months, to increase sugar. Instead of making a sweet wine, the wines are fermented dry with high alcohol.
Amarone is rich and full bodied with flavors of cinnamon, plum, chocolate, dark cherry, and black fig. It can be served after dinner with dark chocolate, or even with roast meat dishes or stews. Grab a bottle and let it be the perfect companion for the long evenings of winter.
It isn’t quite time to bring out your best Champagne for New Year’s Eve but a glass of sparkling wine is always a good choice, especially to brighten up a gray winter day! Spanish Cava is made with the same winemaking technique as Champagne, using local grapes to warm you up with some Spanish heat.
Cava can be enjoyed as an aperitif, to celebrate a fresh snowfall, or with a multitude of dishes.
Whichever wine you choose to drink this winter season, they are best enjoyed with loved ones and hopefully a roaring fireplace!