Autumn arrived abruptly where I live. In wine-geek terms, it seemed to go from sauvignon blanc to cabernet sauvignon weather inside of a week. The shift caught me off-guard. Tomato plants in my garden, still carrying a promising load of almost-ripe fruit, suddenly withered and died. Worse, I had been planning to paint a new wooden shed with a protective stain to guard against winter’s nastiness, but now I can’t. The stain cannot be applied if the outside temperature is expected to dip below 10 degrees within 24 hours.
I sat down with a glass to console myself and ponder options, which for a moment included renting one of those tennis-court bubble domes to encase the shed till April. Despite the frigid weather, I was not in the mood for a red wine. It had to be white – but something fuller than, say, zippy sauvignon blanc or riesling.
There is no official definition of a cold-weather white. Have what you like. When I start to feel the chill, though, my mind wanders toward things such as chardonnay and pinot gris. It also veers in the direction of four less popular varieties that deserve wider recognition: viognier, marsanne and roussanne and grenache blanc.
The last four in that list excel in southern France, where they’re often combined in the white blends of Côtes du Rhône and the Languedoc-Roussillon region. They’re also increasingly in ascent in such New World habitats as South Australia, Chile and British Columbia. The wines often have a pleasantly oily texture and subtle flavours that range from citrus, pear and melon to honey, nuts and spice. And they’re a lot more frost-tolerant than tomatoes or wood stain.
Domaine Lafage Cuvée Centenaire 2011, France
Score: 92 Price $17.95
Tucked down on the Mediterranean coast of southern France, this marvellous Roussillon white comes from exceptionally old vines, the youngest of which exceed 90 years. That means concentrated flavour. A blend of grenache blanc, grenache gris and roussanne, this moderately oaked jewel is medium-full-bodied and smooth, with a welcome bitter edge and flavours of herbal tea, flowers and quince. Not a bad price when you consider that it sells for €12, or about $16.85, in France.
D’Arenberg The Money Spider Roussanne 2011, Australia
Score: 90 Price: $21.95
The first crop of roussanne from this vineyard, in 2000, arrived at the winery covered with money spiders, arachnids said to bring good financial luck. The wine went bad, so there goes that theory. Future harvests did fine, though, and the winery settled on the name. This fresh, unoaked roussanne shows seductively round tropical fruit buttressed by tangy acid and herbs; $24.72 in Nova Scotia.
Louis Jadot Mâcon Villages Chardonnay 2011, France
Score: 90 Price: $16.90
What a fine, relatively affordable introduction to white Burgundy, chardonnay’s most elegant regional interpretation. Jadot, the big quality-oriented négociant, comes through with a smooth-silky texture and shades of pineapple, pear and apple framed by just the right level of acidity. This is clean, yet with good depth and complexity. Available in Ontario.
Stag’s Hollow Viognier Marsanne 2012, British Columbia
Score: 89 Price: $24.99
Zippy, fragrant and expertly balanced, Stag’s Hollow’s 2012 viognier-marsanne offers a bushel of orchard fruit, led by peach and apricot, with bitter tension suggesting orange rind. It’s available in cases of 3, 6 or 12 bottles. Order direct from the B.C. winery through email@example.com.
Pentage Pinot Gris 2012, British Columbia
Score: 89 Price: $18
Yellow-white with coppery-pink highlights, the hue is the product of contact with the grape’s “gris,” or grey, skins. Pentage, an excellent Okanagan producer, strikes fine balance in this mid-weight charmer. It’s an apple, pear and citrus medley, finishing dry, with satisfying grapefruit-rind bitterness. It’s not quite as rich as a typical Alsatian pinot gris, yet far more concentrated and serious than the average pinot grigio (made from the same grape). Available direct from pentage.com.
Strewn Barrel Aged Chardonnay 2011, Ontario
Score: 89 Price: $12.95
Buttered popcorn, toasty oak and vanilla – fitting flavours for cool-weather imbibing. Niagara’s Strewn aims for a rich style and, though the fruit tilts toward the leaner side, it mostly succeeds. Available in Ontario for $11.95 till Nov. 10.
Graham Beck The Game Reserve Chardonnay 2010, South Africa
Score: 88 Price: $16.95
Smooth and buttery, this is ample yet balanced chardonnay, with soft tropical fruit and lemon-curd flavour caressed by vanilla.
Cono Sur Bicicleta Chardonnay 2010, Chile
Score: 88 Price: $9.95
They’ve packed lots of wine into this bargain bottle. It’s on the fuller side of medium-bodied, with smooth, buttered pineapple and syrupy peach infused with toasty oak and fresh acidity. Available in Ontario.
The Flavour Principle, a new cookbook and drinks compendium by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol, was published last month by HarperCollins.