October wine picks: New Mexico, Virginia, Spain, Croatia with Napa "Sexual Chocolate" to finish

Casual wine drinkers, aficionados, and beginners alike: Each month we try to expose you to new things, educating you and diversifying your palate with a lineup of our monthly picks. This month we're going to New Mexico, Virginia, Spain's Ribera del Duero region, Croatia, and California with a sparkler, rosé, and three interesting reds. We hope you enjoyed our September wine picks, and that you enjoy these just as much!

NV Gruet Blanc de Noirs (New Mexico, USA)

Why we chose it: This sparkling wine is a beautiful gold color. It looked great bubbling up in the glass next to soft candlelight during our fantastic dinner at Lot 12 Public House in Berkeley Springs, WV. It's dry, but very rich, and a little tart with some wonderful apple cider depth in the finish. This is a lush sparkling wine, like drinking a sophisticated orchard. We love finding good bottles from places a little off the beaten wine trail, and New Mexico definitely qualifies.

What to look for: This specific bottle should not be too hard for your local wine merchant to get hands on. Otherwise, you're on the hunt for a Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine, which are reliably tasty and fun to drink. We also enjoy one from the Westport Rivers Vineyard and Winery in Massachusetts

2014 Zephaniah Rosé (Virginia, USA)

Why we chose it: Few times of year aren't great times for rosé, but we find they are particularly well suited for spring and autumn as transition wines from the refreshing whites we drink in summer to the warm satisfying reds we drink in winter. Zephaniah is a great family owned and operated winery in Leesburg, VA, where the tasting room is actually the first floor of the charming old family farm manor. We love Bill and Bonnie, the owners / growers / winemakers, and have a complete review of the winery coming this fall. The rosé, though, is a blend of two signature Virginia grapes Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin. The nose is somewhat briny, reminding us of mussel dishes, while the palate surprises with something totally different: strawberries and cream characteristic of a rosé, and some hints of Swedish fish!

What to look for: Go find yourself a quality rosé made from hearty red grapes like Cabernet Franc or Garnacha (two bottles made from each of those two grapes will be very different, and a fun taste test for you). Rosé is really catching on as a great addition to many-a-winery's lineup. You won't be sad.

2010 Bodegas Cepa 21 "Hito" (Ribera del Duero, Spain)

Why we chose it: We're trying to get in the mood before our trip to several wineries in Ribera del Duero (and Rioja) later this month. We've previously written about what a great wine making region Ribera is, so have a look. The Hito is a pretty garnet color. Nose is cranberry, an an almost rustic woodland berry quality, with a hint of caramel that has developed from several years of aging (we've had the bottle in our cellar for three years, and the wine was three years old already when we got our hands on it). It tastes much like it smells, but was softer, less bold than we anticipated. Interestingly, it lacked some of the characteristic blueberry notes that we often find in Tempranillo-based wines from Ribera del Duero. We really enjoyed this one with a simple salt and pepper chicken dish.

What to look for: As we've said in the past, we cannot speak highly enough of wines Ribera del Duero. They are less well known and popular in the United States than bottles from nearby(ish) Rioja, but they are worth asking for. You should not have any difficulty finding one in the $15-$20 range.

2013 Trapan (Istria, Croatia)

Why we chose it: Look at a map, and you will find Istria as the peninsula that juts out nearly directly southward at the northernmost end of the Adriatic Sea. Previously a part of Italy (from 1919 to 1947), its wine making bona fides are legitimate in a Balkan region that has historically and increasingly turned out solid offerings (we promise a Balkan wine tasting lineup soon). Like all the wine in our lineup this month, the Trapan is a beautiful color, dark and inky with crazy legs dripping down the inner sides of the glass. It's dark, thickly flavored, and smoky, with very well defined dark cranberry in the palate.

What to look for: Possible you won't find Balkan wine sitting around on the shelf, unless your wine shop really makes a point of exposing its customers to good stuff they haven't tried. In other words, you might have to ask. To get at what we're sharing here, resist the temptation to buy a bottle of Greek wine and be done with it. Greece, while part of the "Balkans" is going to tend to produce its own distinctive style of wine that is another story for another time.

2013 SLOdown Wines "Sexual Chocolate" (Napa, California, USA)

Why we chose it: The guys behind SLOdown Wines and their signature "Sexual Chocolate" red blend are young, adventurous, and delightfully odd... but they make great wine. Begin with the label on the bottle, a hand scrawled note that proclaims this wine to have begun as part of a bootlegging operation. It gets more off the wall from there. The wine itself gives us red jam in the nose. It's boisterous, seemingly much bigger than what it is, and a true favorite. Always smooth and velvety, we've been enamored with it for quite a while.

What to look for: We encounter SLOdown rather often, so their wine should be very gettable at least in the cities and other locales where hipsters are to be found. Sexual Chocolate is a fun California red blend, but these guys do a less well known Chardonnay called "Broken Dreams" as well as a Bordeaux-style red blend to round out their lineup.