(Courtesy of Franciscan Estate)

7 Complex White Wines to Sip This Fall

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It's time to dust off the crockpot, transition back into sweaters, and switch out white wines for reds. Or, don't. These rich and complex California whites are as in season as booties, but far from basic.


Franciscan Estate, "Cuvee Sauvage" 2013 (Napa Valley) $40


Franciscan Estate was the first winery in Napa Valley to adopt the Burgundian practice of fermenting chardonnay exclusively with wild and native yeasts from the vineyard. This natural process leads to layers upon layers of unpredictable dimension and complexity that'll send your taste buds into overdrive. You'll get everything from creme brûlée, toasted hazelnut, nutmeg, and baked pear, to apple pie spice, honey, and wet rocks. // franciscan.com/white-wines


Chimney Rock, "Elevage Blanc" 2013 (Napa Valley) $51

The Elevage Blanc will make you question everything you think you know about white wine. Chimney Rock winemaker Elizabeth Vianna calls this Bordeaux-style blend of sauvignon blanc and sauvignon gris a white wine for cabernet lovers. The higher sugar levels in sauvignon gris—a pinkish grape that's making a small comeback from near extinction in France—give this wine a rich, round mouthfeel and aromatics of citrus and tropical fruit, balanced out with notes of vanilla and creme brûlée. It's also made for ageing, so grab one bottle for your next girls night, and stash another in your cellar. // chimneyrock.com


Durant & Booth, "Blanc" 2014 (California) $48

New tasting room Durant & Booth is bucking tradition in Napa Valley. Case in point: They don't even produce a cab. Blending five white varietals, most of which you probably haven't heard of or can't pronounce, the Blanc is especially divergent. Made of chardonnay (57.5%) and grenache blanc (17%), plus small amounts of ribolla gialla, roussanne, and Greco di Tufo, the result is a fine balance between fruity notes of white peach, cantaloupe melon, and honeysuckle, and minerality like crushed wet rocks. Production is limited, so call for availability. // durantandbooth.com


Liana Estates, Orange Muscat 2015 (Mendocino) $34

This brand new winery in Carneros is by the same owners of the popular Peju Winery in Rutherford, but the playful Orange Muscat (a sort of lost varietal) is an embodiment of Liana's modern departure from the classic Bordeaux-style wines made at its sister winery. Dry, with a weightiness comparable to nectar, you can expect strong flavors of dried apricot and also honeysuckle, meringue, and tangerine rind. // lianaestates.com


Goosecross, Goosecross Viognier 2013 (Napa Valley) $40

Lush and weighty, viognier pairs with fall like pumpkin spice, but this ancient Rhône varietal is challenging to grow, and even harder to find in NorCal. Yet Goosecross in Yountville has the goods. This food-friendly viognier effuses aromas of orange blossom, apricot, and acacia, with layers of citrus, mandarin zest, and tart pear flavors, followed by honeydew melon and vanilla at the finish. Pair it with a roasted chicken on a cozy night in. // goosecross.com


Pope Valley Winery, Late Harvest Chenin Blanc 2015 (Napa Valley) $30

Chenin Blanc used to be extremely prevalent in Napa Valley, but most of it was ripped out when the cabernet wave hit the region. Now practically an endangered species, Pope Valley Winery is one of the few local producers of chenin blanc left, and they grow it on vines that were planted more than 60 years ago. Quintessential "Old Napa," this late harvest wine is slightly sweet, with tropical notes and a hint of lemon tart. Keep an eye out for the upcoming release of their 2015 dry chenin blanc (the 2014 sold out) with notes of orange blossom, sweet cream, and vanilla. // popevalleywinery.com


Prager Winery & Port Works, Blond Tawny 2008 (Napa Valley) $60

Like a fogless San Francisco day, white ports are hard to find, but the king of port, Prager Winery & Port Works, barrel-aged chardonnay to produce this opulent Blonde Tawny. It fills your nostrils with strong whiskey aromas due to its 7.5-year stint in the barrel, and then produces sweet, nutty flavors of caramel, toffee, and hazelnut, with vanilla and baked apples on the palate. While ports are typically saved for dessert, this one will go great alongside oysters or a bowl of chowder. // pragerport.com

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