Ah, winter … It’s the ideal time for hunkering down with big bad red wines, Port, Scotch and other manly libations to help thaw the cold and ice. But I refuse to let winter chill my soul. So along with the aforementioned, when I tire of shoveling snow and scraping the windshield, I find solace in the white wines of summer. It’s probably childish and unproductive, but I just refuse to let Old Man Winter get a stranglehold on me. So, from time to time, I throw a blanket on the living room floor and stage a mid-winter’s picnic.
The same technique has been known to work with beach blankets, flip-flops and mojitos. For a beautiful blast of summer in the dead of winter, turn to Saracina Mendocino County Sauvignon Blanc 2006 ($16). I’ve grown quite fond of Saracina lately, with its intensely floral, Loire-style white peach, pink grapefruit and jasmine flavors and aromas, all tied together with a marvelous mineral core. It’s a zesty wine without the over-the-top herbs-in-a-bottle character that mars so much Sauvignon Blanc these days. Nestled deep in the Catalan region of southwest France (a sub-region of the Languedoc-Roussillon which borders Spain) is Maison Lafage, where Jean-Marc Lafage turns out distinctive and affordable wines like his Coté Est 2007 ($10). A blend of 50 percent Grenache, 30 percent Chardonnay and 20 percent Marsanne, Coté Est delivers a lot of elegance for the price, thanks in large part to the 80-plusyears-old Grenache used in the mix. Crisp peach and apricot flavors with a hint of Asian pear and lime combine to make this a nice aperitif wine or good partner for lighter foods.
While we’re in the Languedoc, let’s head over to the Pic St. Loup wine district and visit Domaine de Lancyre for its delicious, unoaked Roussanne.
Domaine de Lancyre Roussanne 2007 ($20) is a big, crisp, sexy white that you’ll want to drink a little less chilled than normal to keep the acidity in balance. Lancyre Roussanne is mostly Roussanne (80 percent), blended with Marsanne (10 percent) and Viognier (10 percent). Remove the natural cork and you’ll think you’ve wandered into a flower shop; this is one strongly perfumed wine. On the tongue, there’s bright citrus (tangerine, orange and lime) and stone fruit (apricot and peach) flavors with good minerality, a spicy kick, nutty almond notes and surprisingly long finish.
My most perfect and certainly the most memorable picnic I can recall took place in Provence in the south of France. The wine was Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc. So to blast away the winter woes, I recently uncorked a bottle of Domaine Saint Laurent Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2006 ($23.50). At the family-run Domaine Saint Laurent, grapes are still hand-harvested and crushed, and no pesticides are used in the vineyards, as it’s been for five generations.
Their Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc is a blending of Clairette and Grenache Blanc. The Clairette provides complexity and finesse while Grenache adds structure and acidity. As you’d expect, this lovely Chateauneuf-du-Pape has intense dried apricot aromas on the nose, along with traces of vanilla, imparted by oak barrels. Exotic fruit flavors (mango and pineapple) are dominant in this silky, soft wine, which I think still needs a couple of years to develop fully.
One more delectable white winter wine is Willm Pinot Gris Reserve 2006 ($15), from Alsace. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite wines: It’s 100 percent Pinot Gris grapes and proof that Pinot Gris doesn’t have to be wimpy. This is a big, round, buttery version that you could probably get away with substituting for Chardonnay.
Take that, Old Man Winter.