This is the time of year for that great annual migration—from white wine to red. Temps are dipping, fireplaces are crackling to life and there’s a roast chicken in the oven for the first time since March. Bigger, richer wine is called for.
But, but, but … white wine lovers of the world, don’t yield ground! You might not want your wine to be as searingly crisp as the fall day, but there are unlimited delicious ways to get around that in the universe of white wines. Take Sauvignon Blanc, for instance. Instead of a lean and steely, stainless-fermented version, find one that’s been filled out a little with some oak treatment and/or plumped up with a splash of Sémillon, à la white Bordeaux. Or explore the fascinating, so-called “alternative whites” in cutting-edge shops (alternative to what?) that are bright, dry and mouth-filling all at once—Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer. Almost the most satisfying of all this time of year is the Rhône family: Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier—varieties that are inherently a little fat.
These are the bottles to break out when good sausages anchor the menu, pork shoulder is bubbling in your slow cooker or there’s a well-seasoned chicken roasting in the oven.
Andis Wines 2020 Bill Dillian Vineyard Reserve Sémillon Sierra Foothills
Here’s a real deal from Andis Wines in Amador County. Honeysuckle aromas are joined by apple, pear, fig and Meyer lemon over intriguing saline notes on the nose. A slight, mouth-filling waxy quality (a marker for Sémillon, and a good thing) carries grapefruit and lemon zest, evolving to peach and apricot. The finish is satisfyingly full of dry minerality.
Aperture 2020 Chenin Blanc North Coast
This delicious barrel-fermented Chenin from Aperture’s Jesse Katz comes from a vineyard planted all the way back in the 1940s in Clarksburg, where cool breezes off the Sacramento Delta keep acidity levels high while the fruit hangs in the cause of ripeness. A swirl of peach, crisp apple, pink grapefruit and jasmine opens, with tropical flavors joining the stone fruit and citrus on the palate. Brightness counter-balances mouth-filling roundness, with hints of herbs offering a savory note.
Cade 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley
This vibrant Sauv Blanc from Cade, in the PlumpJack Collection of Wineries, harbors remarkable complexity for a white in this price range. On the nose, beguiling tropical notes waft under lemongrass, pear and white blossom aromas. Exuberant flavors pop in the mouth, with citrus running from lemon drop to lime zest and grapefruit, joining apple, pear and wet-stone minerality. With 25 percent of the juice fermented in oak and splashes of both Sémillon and Viognier included, this SB offers a great balance of weight and texture to brightness.
Castello del Terriccio 2020 Con Vento Toscana IGT
Literally translated as “with wind,” the name of Castello del Terriccio’s terrific blend of Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc was taken from Collina del Vento, or “hill of the wind.” The wine’s aromas are rich and bracing at the same time, combining ocean salinity with white stone fruit, lemongrass and fresh herbs. Bright citrus drives the palate, with grapefruit puckering up riper lemon. Tension and verve carry through a long, minerally finish.
Chappellet 2020 Signature Chenin Blanc Napa Valley
The Chenin off the Chappellets’ Pritchard Hill vineyard has become something of a legend. Matriarch Molly’s signature is right on the bottle—a fitting match between an avid gardener and a white wine that smells like her garden drenched in morning dew. Delicate stone fruit, citrus and honeysuckle, with a beautiful vein of oyster-shell minerality, lead into a vibrant palate layered with pear and melon, white peach and a touch of grapefruit. Tension and energy fill the mouth, rounded by beautiful fruit.
Corazón 2020 Gewürztraminer Anderson Valley
This perfectly dry and crisp Gewürz from Napa Valley’s Cathy Corison (Corazón—“heart” in Spanish—is her ancestral name) comes from a 40-year-old vineyard in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley. Very pretty jasmine, pear and stone fruit aromas lift in the glass, along with the underlying spice of the variety. Juicy and almost shockingly mouth-filling flavors follow—white nectarine, apple, pithy grapefruit and other citrus that leans savory—with racy acidity pushing into a lingering finish. In my book, this is one of California’s best Gewürztraminers.
Emeritus Vineyards 2019 Hallberg Blanc Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
Here’s the wild card in this collection. Pressing the juice off the skins of red Pinot Noir before fermenting it produces this striking white wine from Emeritus. Richness extends from the nose to the palate, starting with aromatic florals, peach, tropicals, river stone and brioche notes. Mouth-filling flavors follow—pineapple and stone fruit layered under grapefruit, delivered with arresting texture and a lingering finish.
Hamel Family Wines 2019 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Valley
If a white wine can have a sense of place, this Hamel Family Reserve Sauv Blanc, from dry-farmed Tres Palmas Estate Vineyard, has one in spades. Neutral-oak fermentation and concrete aging (with a little oak thrown in) has coaxed out savory minerality and mouth-filling textures. Spiced citrus aromas mingle with fresh herbs. Fruit emerges on the palate—pear, grapefruit, white nectarine and hints of tropicals, expanding with lovely weight into a long finish. This one’s in serious white territory.
Larkmead 2019 Lillie Napa Valley
Northern Napa Valley’s Larkmead is better-known for long-lived, old-school reds, but the 10 percent of its wines that are white deserve serious attention. As winemaker Avery Heelan says of their “Lillie,” it’s a Sauvignon Blanc acting as a Chardonnay, not just because of the quality of the fruit, but also, in 2019, for its 10 months in French oak. An alluring, savory nose combines sexy salinity with chalky earth, lime and pear; white blossoms emerge in the glass, then tropical passion fruit. Rich and highly textural on the palate, the wine is satisfyingly dry, with lime zest and grapefruit puckering up the sweeter-seeming white stone fruit and tropicals.
Shared Notes 2020 Les leçons des maîtres Russian River Valley, Sonoma County
Winemakers Bibiana González Rave and Jeff Pisoni, wife and husband responsible for their own separate brands—Cattleya Wines and Pisoni Estate, respectively—realized that this time of year (harvest), they never saw each other. So they created Sauvignon Blanc–focused Shared Notes to force the issue: They have to oversee picking, pressing, fermenting and aging together. This “Lessons of the masters” blend of 72 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 28 percent Sémillon, fermented in 100 percent new French oak and aged some months on the lees, is lovely and serious. Spiced citrus opens, joined by stone fruit, apple, green fig, hazelnut, crushed rock and lilting florals. Mouth-filling and beautifully textured Meyer lemon, grapefruit and stone fruit flavors follow and linger. As delicious as this white is now, consider aging it. I recently had the chance to taste (no, indulge in) the 2012, and it was remarkably fresh and beautiful.
Tablas Creek 2019 Roussanne Adelaida District, Paso Robles
Roussanne, a white Rhône variety, is an important grape for Rhône-expert Tablas Creek—as a varietal wine and in their lovely blends. This 2019 shows the purity of its character with honeyed pear notes on both the nose and the palate. Pretty minerality underscores melon and stone fruit aromas as well. Apricot and appealing salinity join in the mouth, with a profile that’s at once delicate and rich, fresh and mouth-filling.