It's a popular notion, and an undeniable truth, that many wines improve in the glass. Mainly it has to do with air. Exposure to oxygen lifts aromas and casts off natural sulphur compounds that can mask complex nuances. With white wine, however, there's something else at play: rising temperature.
We chill whites to render acidity more refreshing. But it cuts both ways, numbing the tastebuds and muting subtler flavours. A simple pinot grigio, with little else going for it but acidity, may taste best straight from the fridge. Complex whites, by contrast, tend to blossom with a little warmth. Fifteen minutes in the glass or 30 in the bottle at room temperature works wonders. The elegant wines below are good examples of this.
Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau white (France)
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $69.95
They make white wine in the Rhône Valley district of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, though it's harder to come by than the red. Vieux Télégraphe is a star producer, and while I've found its reds disturbingly overripe in recent years, this blanc is as superb as its price would suggest. The texture is pure silk, carrying subtle layers of beeswax, orange, pear and flowers. Roast pork would make a fine match.
Domaine Delorme et Fils Pouilly-Fuissé 2009 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $29.95
There's a beguiling suggestion of wet stone here – one nuance that often seems to get amplified as room temperature works its alchemy on cold wine. A chardonnay from southern Burgundy, it strikes good balance between ripe, apple-like fruit and lively acidity, with an underpinning of well-integrated, smooth oak and a dollop of honey on the long finish. Great with scallops.
C.H. Berres Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2009 (Germany)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.95
Markus Berres is a 21st-generation winegrower on this family property. But he's a devoted modernist, having worked in New Zealand. Slightly sweeter than off-dry but perfectly balanced by the formidable acidity, this wine shows sumptuous tinned-peach and poached-pear flavours lifted by a pine-like breeze. Treat it, and yourself, to smoked fish.
Château de Béru Chablis 2010 (France)
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $30
The Béru family has owned this estate for 400 years, a remarkable feat even by French standards. But the land fell into decline in the late 19th century as the phylloxera root louse carved a path of destruction through almost all of Europe's vines. It subsisted on a much smaller scale for most of the past century, then was replanted fully to its former glory in 1987. The mother-daughter team of Laurence and Athénaïs farm organically, and the chardonnays – what Chablis is made from – are models of elegance. This hails from a classically crisp growing season, with tight acidity and subtle redolence of fresh and candied citrus as well as stone. Available only in Ontario direct from Le Caviste, 647-975-2553, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bouchard Père & Fils Macon-Lugny Saint-Pierre 2010 (France)
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $15.60
When fridge-cold, this bargain white Burgundy can seem humdrum. Give it time to thaw and your modest investment soars. It's got a polished texture and hints of candied citrus and grilled pineapple, with elegant balance most New World chardonnays can't match at this price. Versatile at the table, it would sing with medium-weight fish, such as halibut, or with roast chicken.
Masi Masianco Pinot Grigio & Verduzzo 2011 (Italy)
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.95
When I see "pinot grigio" on an affordable bottle, my temptation is to chill the dickens out of it because most grigios are as characterful as big-brand lager. Not this one. It's blended with verduzzo, a northeastern Italian variety with an attractively bitter edge. Those verduzzo grapes also were dried for several weeks after harvest to concentrate sugars and flavours, in the manner of the so-called ripasso reds of Valpolicella. The result is relatively silky and honeyed, with a captivating floral aroma that benefits from a bit of warmth. It's light but substantial enough for roast chicken or pork.