Can you drink white wine in winter?

It's a style thing: the secret to drinking white in winter is choosing the right one.
It's a style thing: the secret to drinking white in winter is choosing the right one. Photo: Jennifer Soo

Cold weather means richer foods and a glass of red in hand, preferably with an open fire crackling nearby, right? 

Not necessarily.

While white wine doesn't typically feature against this fire-lit backdrop, you could be missing out by pushing whites aside in favour of red wine every time you reach for a bottle this winter.

Chardonnay and chicken is a classic combo.
Chardonnay and chicken is a classic combo. Photo: Jennifer Soo

For Banjo Harris Plane, a former Attica manager and now wine entrepreneur at online wine subscription service, the Wine Gallery, the epiphany came seven years ago in Paris. Deep into a degustation at three-Michelin-starred-restaurant L'Astrance, Harris Plane was presented with a dish of duck and hazelnuts.

"Ninety-nine per cent of people would naturally pair a red wine with this but the flavour of the hazelnuts was quite strong and so what was served was a slightly older white burgundy – a chardonnay – that had an aroma reminiscent of toasted hazelnuts," Harris Plane says. "At the time, it was a bit of a revelation."

Keeping to the expected food-wine combinations means you also risk overlooking some great seasonal produce, such as oysters, which are at their best coming from cold waters. Troy Jones, of Payten & Jones Wines, learnt this lesson some 15 years ago from Yarra Yering founder, Bailey Carrodus.

Pair marsanne with roast pork.
Pair marsanne with roast pork. Photo: David Mariuz

At the time, Jones worked at the local pub. He recalls Carrodus coming in and getting a dozen oysters and a bottle of muscadet (a French white). 

"Always in winter, always a dozen and the same bottle," Jones says. From his seat near the fire, Carrodus offered Jones an oyster and a swig.

"A thousand-yard stare came over me," Jones says. "I still think about that being my most memorable winter white-wine-drinking moment."


It's a style thing

It's probably not surprising, but what makes these two pairings so memorable is the careful selection of wine for the specific meal and moment. And that's really the secret to drinking white in winter: choosing the right one.

"On a chilly night, if I'm sitting home and I want to drink something, I don't necessarily want to drink a lean riesling that has a lot of acidity," Plane says. He believes the trick is to think about the style and texture.

"I think in winter, people certainly prefer to drink richer, more opulent, warming styles of red wine. So, if you're going to look at white you want to find something that has a richness and a warmth to it."

Treat it nice

Then there's the way you serve the wine. Whipping it straight out the fridge the way you do in summer won't do the wine any favours. Harris Plane recommends getting your white out 15 to 20 minutes before serving and decanting it – even just into a jug and then back into the bottle.

"You need to be gentle with it and try and wake it up," he says, "so definitely serving temperature and decanting if possible to coax the most out of these richer whites is really important."

Whites to try in winter – and what to serve them with

If you're ready to step out of your usual comfort food zone, these white varieties are a good starting point.


Chardonnays offer that stylistic richness and roundness that feels welcoming on a cold night. A stand-out favourite for Jones is a classic roast chicken with chardonnay. He looks for something with a little richness to it, but not too big and oaky: "Just something with structure and ripping acidity to cut through the rich roasted potatoes and gravy."

Try: Payten & Jones 2016 Valley Vignerons Chardonnay, $27


These Rhone Valley varieties both have a slight waxiness to their texture and fruit flavours on the cooked apple and pear spectrum, Harris Plane says. He suggests pairing marsanne with roast pork, while roussanne goes well with richer seafood dishes, such as a creamy lobster bisque or a side of sole poached in a buttery sauce.

Try: Tahbilk 2016 Marsanne, $17.95; Jamsheed 2016 Beechworth Roussanne, $32


Slightly higher levels of alcohol and a few extra grams of residual sugar gives these wines more richness than a summery riesling or pinot gris. But don't worry, they're not too sweet. "Classically it's paired with relatively spicy and aromatic Vietnamese or Thai dishes," Plane says. "So you could carry that into Thai soups like Tom Kha Gai made with coconut milk that have a bit of richness to their texture but also heat from the chilli. The richness in the gewurtz will balance that out."

Try: Delatite 2015 Dead Man's Hill Gewurztraminer, $27