Many of us like to celebrate bonfire night with a drink while we watch the sky lighting up with fireworks. With the nights getting darker and chillier our instinct is to reach for a beer or a glass of red wine. However, there are plenty of white wine styles which are rich and robust enough to withstand the autumnal conditions and add a touch of warmth to our throats.
Many of us have sipped a glass of opulent, oaked Chardonnay or perfumed, floral Viognier on a warm summer’s day and found the white wine too heavy and chewy. However, these whites are perfect for cool autumn nights adding a touch of rich warmth despite their chilled temperature.
These rich, oaky white wine styles are usually highly perfumed with characteristics of cream, vanilla, rich tropical fruit such as pineapple and peach and, sometimes, buttered toast. What more do you want from a glass of white wine to transport you from the evening chill to the warmth of a roaring fire?
Chardonnay, particularly New World Chardonnay, is arguably the richest, ripest and most powerful white wine style. Burgundy is the most famous region in France for this white wine grape and there are some wonderfully concentrated and mouth-filling examples of Chardonnay from this region, particularly from the Cote d’Or. Alternatively, Chardonnay from the Languedoc region in the south of France has plenty of oaky, buttery characteristics perfect for swilling around the mouth whilst watching the Catherine Wheels.
Australia is renowned for its ripe, sun-kissed Chardonnays. This luxurious, blockbuster white wine style is starting to fall out of favour and many Australian producers are toning down the oak and the opulence a couple of degrees to produce a slightly more refined white wine but there are still plenty of the blockbusters around and they will certainly help to warm you up. Chardonnays from California, Chile and South Africa are generally rich and full bodied too with lots of concentrated fruit characteristics.
Semillon is a white wine grape often used in blends with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc but at its mature best it produces wonderfully rich, ripe wines. Semillon is full of characteristics of lime, butter and toast and is a perfect white wine for sipping on a cold dark night. The best big, rich Semillons come from Australia particularly the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and the Barossa and Clare Valleys in South Australia. Here, the heat bakes the white wine grapes so the resulting wine is luscious and so ripe that it almost tastes sweet despite being a dry white wine. The dominant characteristic is lime but with plenty of other flavours such as honey, angelica, preserved lemons and buttered toast the overall effect is like drinking liquid toast and marmalade. However, do be aware that Semillon benefits from some aging before it achieves this rich, ripe state. Young Semillon can be lean and grassy, although still succulent and attractive thanks to the lime characteristics.
Viognier is a grape which has become increasingly fashionable in recent years, understandably so when you sample the heady, intense white wine it produces. The best Viognier wines waft aromas of blossom and honeysuckle and line the mouth with luscious flavours of peaches and apricots. It’s almost like chewing a mouthful of ripe, squashy yellow fleshed fruit except that the wine warms the throat too. You can savour the sparkling sensations in the month whilst enjoying the flashing fireworks in the sky. The best Viognier comes from the Rhone Valley in France – particularly the Condrieu area. There are some decent Viogniers made in the south of France but avoid the budget bottles are they are likely to be disappointing. It is also worth trying Viognier from California, Australia, South Africa and Argentina.
Other firecracker white wines for bonfire night include the white Rhone grapes of Roussanne and Marsanne. These grapes produce the famous Rhone white wines of Crozes-Hermitage, St-Peray and St-Joseph. The wine is heavy and full bodied with spicy characteristics and flavours of peach kernel, nut oil and occasionally aniseed. It is almost as warming as a sweet white wine or a liqueur.
Finally, try a white Rioja. This sultry, heavily oaked white wine is produced using the Viura, Malvasia and Garnacha Blanco grapes. It is a deep yellow colour with a thick, chewy texture. It has aromas of wood and sawdust and flavours of cream and vanilla thanks to its barrel aging. Both white Rioja and white Rhone wines can benefit from being drunk with food so you have a great excuse to step indoors out of the bonfire night chill and feast on creamy fish or chicken dishes to get the best out of these heavyweight wines. After all, you can still see all the fireworks through the window!
Image by Niklas Bildhauer.