Today we bring you our top five wines from last month, April 2016. As always, our mission here is to sample some specific wine and discuss our reasons for choosing it, but also to point you in the direction of finding that wine to try yourself, or to find similar wines that you might enjoy. We recommend you check with your local wine merchant (small shops are usually best) to find what you're looking for. Washingtonians should beeline for The Vineyard in McLean, and New Yorkers should do likewise to Penn Wine and Spirits inside of Penn Station.
Soter North Valley Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 (Willamette Valley, OR)
Why we chose it: Soter Vineyards has produced a fine representative what we love about about great Pinot Noir from Oregon, tending to be cooler (i.e. less alcoholic "hotness" than California Pinots) but also substantively flavorful. In addition to the characteristic red fruit, we found some amazing notes of creamy chocolate, coffee, and smoke that finished just brilliantly when it went down. This wine is definitely hearty enough to pair with food, our choice being a bourbon glazed salmon and asparagus grilled outside and served over mashed potatoes.
What to look for: You can order Soter's wine online in many states. Otherwise you're looking for a quality bottle from Oregon's Willamette Valley (we also love Umpqua Valley).
Delaplane Cellars Shirland Syrah 2010 (Middleburg AVA, Virginia)
Why we chose it: Our love of Delaplane Cellars is no secret. This unique Syrah gave us hints of smoke, meaty jerky, rosemary, and sage in the nose. The dried cherry palate gives way to a nice touch of bitter spice in the aftertaste. Another great food wine, we think this needs a fatty steak, and would go well with sweet potatoes and some vanilla ice cream for dessert.
What to look for: This wine is sadly no longer available. Winemaker Jim Dolphin doesn't produce a Syrah every year, so we'll have to wait patiently. However, some French Syrah will do the trick, though likely be more delicate. We don't recommend low end Australian Shiraz here, but Australia is home to the amazing Fowles Wine whose Ladies who Shoot their Lunch Shiraz will treat you very well.
Westport Rivers Pinot Noir 2010 (South Coast of Massachusetts)
Why we chose it: The flying pig on the label earns this wine the nickname Little Pig. It's one of our all-time favorites from Westport Rivers Winery, itself one of our favorites. It really showcases the substantive Pinot Noir that good Massachusetts winemakers can produce when the weather cooperates. A great year there, 2010 produced this wine with a little earth, mushroom, and cocoa powder in the nose followed by fruit elements that are rather Burgundy (France) in style, with some acidity that is reminiscent of some Pinot Noir we've had from the Australian island of Tasmania. Lots to think about here! The sense of cranberry juice on the palate befits a wine produced in a big cranberry growing region, and it's slightly jammy at the end.
What to look for: While the 2010 vintage sold out long ago, you can get the 2012 Pinot online direct from the winery. You'll be hard pressed to find much Massachusetts wine in shops out of the state, so we'd recommend you look at Pinot Noir cousins from the aforementioned Oregon valleys, Burgundies from around the city of Beaune, or from Tasmania or New Zealand. California Pinots are quite different from these cooler climate offerings, so not a fair approximation here.
Quinta Cruz Graciano Bokisch Vineyard 2008 (Santa Cruz, CA)
Why we chose it: Graciano is a grape varietal grown primarily in Spain, so we were intrigued to find it as a 100% single varietal out of California. This literally offered us a nose of food, as we sensed some corn and (odd) a little nougat. Swirling in your glass brings out some hot red fruit, and there is strawberry on the palate that will sweeten a bit as it airs.
What to look for: Graciano is tough to find in general, saying nothing of a single varietal from California. If you're really dedicated, the winery offers a PDF-based online order form that looks like it may do the trick. Otherwise we'd recommend talking to your wine merchant about alternatives from Rioja, Spain.
Kayra Öküzgözü Vintage Öküzgözü 2011 (Turkey)
Why we chose it: We struggled with this one, because while good in some situations (such how we tried it, with salmon baked with feta, dill, parsley, and lemon zest), this wine didn't blow us away. However, exploring wine from unexpected region's of the world is an experience we always recommend! The nose on this one reminded us of dirt road, and was a little metallic from what we speculate could be having been grown in an iron-rich soil. The deep dark colored wine tastes as it looks, of plum, chalk, and Bordeaux cherry. It demands food.
What to look for: Again, not a common wine, so your best option is to work with the folks at your local wine shop. If this specific wine is not available, you're going to do alright with a Bordeaux-style red from that part of the world, such as Lebanon's well known Chateau Musar that we profiled this past February.