In the warm breeze of summer, we want brisk white wines with no more weight than a cotton blouse -- like Pinot Grigio -- to refresh salads, light seafood and alfresco evenings.
But the hard winds of February and March call for full-bodied, texturous whites to wrap around robust meals like a plush sweater.
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Rioja Blanca "Fermentado en Barrica"
Bodegas Finca Nueva
• Suggested retail and availability: &36;15 at wine, liquor and specialty shops (distributed by Garnacha, Bensenville)
Spain's winegrowers reserve their wines until they're ready to drink in their own cellars, so you won't have to. Even though this Viura -- Rioja's fine white grape -- is grown in rocky, dry soil, then aged in French oak, the wine's entry is fresh. Give it a minute and it swells to creamy texture and exotic orange peel, vanilla and unique waxy notes. Serve with rich seafood (grilled salmon with hollandaise), estofado (one of Spain's many regional stews), and the richest tapas (roasted bone marrow, enjoyed at Chicago's The Purple Pig).
As we see enjoy the final weeks of winter, look for white wines with mouthfeel and flavor imparted by oak, alcohol, acid and concentrated fruit.
This is one time of year when this palate prefers the many expressions of Chardonnay. The classic unoaked style is France's Chablis, with layers of bright citrus, damp earth, minerals and gripping acidic finish, to serve with the briniest oysters, other seafood and light meats. Excellent producers include LaRoche, Brocard and Fevre (expect to pay $50 to $100 per bottle).
A Chardonnay with gentle oak maturation adds ripe apple, brown spice and Chardonnay's famed butteriness for buttery dishes such as lobster or chicken Tetrazzini. For elegance, look for Bouchard's Bourgogne Blanc Reserve, about $25.
Migration's "Russian River Valley" embodies all the good things about California's Chardonnay -- ripe, bright, rich and warm, $30. For value, ask for Bogle, $10.
A fully-oaked Chardonnay will enrich surf or turf with chewy texture, ripe fruit and roasted hazelnut flavors, rich alcohol and powerful finish. Favorites include Mer Soleil ($38) and Bernadus ($25).
Riesling also provides the power to pair with wintry dishes -- not through oak, but fruit and acid. In Alsace -- France's sunniest and driest region -- Riesling ripens in mountainous vineyards, then ferments to rich, dry-ish wines with stone and tree fruit flavors, firm minerality and powerfully acidic finish.
Before you settle in for a long winter's night of takeout barbecue, sushi or other Asian cuisine, pick up a bottle of Hugel, Alsace Wilm or Trimbach ($15-$25).
For richer wines, look for "Grand Cru" or "Reserve" labels from Weinbach, Trimbach or Meyer-Fonne, ($25- $65) to serve with roasted fowl, smoked meats and the Alsace specialty choucroute -- a one-pot-dinner of sauerkraut, sausage, cured meats and potatoes.
• Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross writes Good Wine. Write her at email@example.com.