When the weather's cold and the food is hearty, there's still a cozy place at the table for white wine. Big-boned chardonnay, spicy gew?rztraminer, pear-kissed pinot blanc and icy riesling all have their purpose, from pairing with winter halibut to roast chicken, duck and turkey, deep-dish quiches, pastas in cream sauces, pureed parsnips and much more. These wines often offer astoundingly good value, too.
Equally indulgent this time of year is a late-harvest white wine made from riesling, gew?rztraminer, semillon or Muscat blanc. With just the right balance of sweetness and acidity, they accent the end of the meal, pairing deliciously alongside fruit-based desserts, strong cheeses or chocolate, or enjoyed all alone.
Castello di Amorosa 2011 Anderson Valley Late Harvest Gew?rztraminer ($35): From the eccentric Napa Valley castle comes this, a favored dessert wine that's rich and bright in acidity and honey, apricot and rose, a perfect example of dessert in a glass, entirely enjoyable all on its own. castellodiamarosa.com.
CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs 2011 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($25): Paul Hobbs makes a handful of exceptional, single-vineyard chardonnays from Ritchie Vineyard to Cuv? Agustina, a special wine from Sonoma Mountain's Richard Dinner Vineyard named for Hobbs' daughter. CrossBarn is the way into this world, a more approachable, affordable tier of Hobbs wines made with the same eye to quality. It makes for a delicious pairing with winery chef Anne Sibbaluca's winter halibut dish with pureed parsnip and wilted baby spinach. To add to the match, Sibbaluca tops the dish with a chardonnay saffron sauce. crossbarnwinery.com.
Gundlach Bundschu 2011 Estate Vineyard Sonoma Coast Gew?rztraminer ($22): Sonoma Valley-based Gundlach Bundschu maintains a 150-year-old vineyard high within the Sonoma Coast appellation that produces this lovely, lilting gew?rztraminer, dry and without a trace of oak. Aromatically true to its grape, it's like biting into an Asian pear followed by a lime chaser, and its acidity is perfect to pair with any dish that includes buttery lobster or shrimp. gunbun.com.
Handley 2011 Anderson Valley Gew?rztraminer ($18): Milla Handley sources gew?rztraminer from three regional vineyards -- Helluva, Ferrington and her own estate -- to make this signature wine every year. It's dry, aromatic and spicy, perfect for pork, duck or Asian fare. handleycellars.com.
Horse &amp; Plow 2011 The Gardener Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($30): From Marimar Torres's organic Don Miguel Vineyard, this chardonnay is bright and nutty, with a strong flavor of apple. A garden in a glass, pair it with chicken, turkey meatloaf or fish. horseandplow.com.
Navarro 2011 Late Harvest Cluster Select Muscat Blanc ($29): This wine is truly a nectar of the gods, gorgeously smooth, balanced and lingering, entirely sippable by itself, after a big meal. It's also at the ready for strong cheeses, dark chocolates or stone-fruit desserts layered in cr?e Anglaise. navarrowine.com.
Philo Ridge 2010 Ferrington Vineyards Anderson Valley Gew?rztraminer ($19): From the wilds of Mendocino, this Ferrington Vineyards gew?rztraminer is light, lemony and floral, with acidity to spare and a taste of chai tea on the finish. It's spicy and balanced. Pair this exotic wine with exotic food. philoridge.com.
Saint Gregory 2011 Pinot Blanc Mendocino County ($15): Greg Graziano makes the Saint Gregory wines, his nod to Alsace, and this is as fine an example as you'll find of pinot blanc. It's light and clean with floral layers of pear and lots of minerality, a fine choice to go with Asian fare, rosemary chicken and scallops, or to enjoy as a refreshing aperitif. Made with the textures of a chardonnay and singing with texture, it's a good introduction to the variety if you're not already a fan. grazianofamilyofwines.com.