By Colleen Helm Explore Big Sky Contributor
Now that we’ve had our first polar vortex, you can start thinking about changing up your wine game.
Nothing says winter like the Italian red wine varietal called nebbiolo. A perfect match with stews, mushrooms, local game meats and the occasional chunk of wild boar, nebbiolo never fails to deliver. Named for the “nebbia,” or fog that rolls into Italy’s Piedmont region come harvest time, the nebbiolo grape can range from a simple wine, lightly chilled for an après ski spent in the sun, to the full on tar and roses flavor profile of a barolo, which is made exclusively from nebbiolo grapes.
Two of my favorites are Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo and Damilano Lecinquevigne Barolo. The Produttori comes from a small co-op founded in 1958 with 19 small growers and has grown to 52 members. Finding nebbiolo this good at a decent price is unheard of, and this wine is lively with earthy, berry fruit that floats atop fine tannins with great acidity.
If you have a bit more cash to spend, the Damilano Lecinquevigne Barolo is astonishing. Sourced from five vineyards, the intense notes of rose, leather, tobacco and violet make it a good wine from what’s considered the best barolo year in history, 2010. As an added bonus, both of these wines go easy on the alcohol so you’ll never miss a big powder day.
When the temperatures drop, we move from lighter dining fare to more substantial foods and we need what I like to call “winter whites” to pair with that type of cuisine. This winter, step out of the chardonnay box and go with something different like viognier, roussanne or marsanne. These heavyweight whites are famous in the northern Rhone region of France and are known for the highly sought-after wines they produce. Weight-wise, they can easily fill in where chardonnay left off without clubbing you over the head with oak flavor.
My favorite inexpensive white is the Chateau Pesquie Cotes du Rhone Blanc that has the weighty viognier grape at its core, complemented by roussanne. It’s a mineral-driven wine with flavors of white flowers, anjou pear and lemon curd, and is a freewheeling white Rhone with attitude.
If you want something with a bit more backbone, then Rotie Cellars Northern White should fit the bill. Done in a French style from Horse Heaven Hills, Washington, Rotie’s 100 percent marsanne is all wet-stone minerality with notes of lemon peel and white peach, and a creamy texture on top of a honeydew melon finish. Can you say shrimp poached in butter?
Colleen Helm bought Bozeman’s Vino per Tutti in 2012 after spending more than 20 years in the finance industry, and earned her Certified Sommelier designation in 2014. She started cooking and tasting wine at an early age and lived in both Italy and Germany for a number of years, gaining Italian citizenship and a healthy appreciation for European wine and beer.