Best of May: Tradition and revolution in the month's best bottles of wine and cider

Tradition and revolution reign in our Best of May tasting lineup. We're showcasing our favorites from the past month, which felt cooler than usual here in the northeast United States, and thus kept us drinking more reds longer than we have in past years. On tradition we've Chateauneuf du Pape -- a most traditional French red -- and an Old World style Virginia red blend just making its mark on the world. The revolutionaries are Sexual Chocolate from SLO Down Wines, and the Standard from Big Hill Ciderworks. The latter, we freely admit, is no wine by traditional measures at all. Rather, we love the passion and detail in the cidermaking here; it's "winemaker" quality!

2011 L’ange Vieilles Vines Chateauneuf du Pape

Why we chose it: We came across this wine at the wedding reception for Meghan's sister, Liz Harple, a wine expert in her own right (and a frequent behind the scenes contributor to Wine:Thirty Flight). We wouldn't recommend you serve it in sunny late afternoon as we did, but it was just too good! You will likely find a delicate smoothness here, with good dark berry, licorice, and pepper with a sophisticated, austere, and lingering mineral finish. It drips with sophistication, and is offered at a price to prove it!

What to look for: Through discussion and the swapping of different tasting notes, we came to learn that this CDP (Chateaneuf du Pape) is a delectable blend of 65% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, and 5% Cinsault. This is not a terribly price-accessible CDP, so this is one where we recommend you work with your local wine merchant to find a balance of quality and price that works for you.

Stone Tower Winery 2013 Hogback Mountain

Why we chose it: The first higher end estate release from a fairly new yet quite promising Virginia winery, the Hogback Mountain from Loudoun County's Stone Tower Winery is a great idea for folks in the Washington, DC area who want to start a potentially nice vertical (same wine from different years all in a row) from the ground up. We don't generally love Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Virginia, but it can be truly fantastic when produced in the hands of highly talented growers and winemakers. This was Meghan's tasting, and she found this very "Left Bank" style wine to offer nice jammy black fruit and a smooth finish. It needs time in the bottle, though, before it achieves its full potential. She recommends optimal aging in the 5-10 year range.

What to look for: If you live in the DC-MD-VA local area or are lucky enough to live in a state to which this wine can be ordered online and shipped, then we'd certainly recommend that. You won't find it in stores, and as we said, this is a great opportunity to start acquiring a high potential wine and then adding the 2014, 2015, etc vintages to your collection for aging and drinking in a few years. Otherwise, we'd recommend hunting for a "Left Bank" style wine (i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon dominated with the possible blending partners of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Malbec.

2014 SLO Down Wines "Sexual Chocolate"

Why we chose it: We're big fans of the eccentrically witty sense of humor and not-taking-oneself-too-seriously for which SLO Down Wines is famous. Winemaker Brandon Allen recently gave us a taste of the soon-to-be-released (sorry for all the hyphens) 2014 edition of their headliner "Sexual Chocolate" red blend. The 2014 offering is interesting because Brandon lost some of his zinfandel in an earthquake, and so it was out of necessity that this vintage will be the first Sexual Chocolate made with 20% Malbec. The wine -- which is predominantly Syrah but also includes some Petite Syrah and Petit Verdot -- is aged separately and then then blended together for about two months before bottling. We found that the Malbec introduces some lush, brambly rusticity with blueberry notes that almost remind us of a Ribera del Duero from Spain, though there is not a lick of Tempranillo in this thing. It's cooler, yet bolder in the back than what we found on the 2013 Sexual Chocolate. And, of course, we get some chocolate notes... or is that a placebo? ;-)

What to look for: Sexual Chocolate, the rest of the SLO Down Wines lineup, and in fact their charmingly ridiculous demeanor are rather one of a kind. We won't even attempt to direct you towards an alternative. You can happily order online, and we've found their wine reasonably easy to get on order from a number of little shops. Also give a try to their "Broken Dreams" Chardonnay and their "Stand Out" Bordeaux(ish) red blend!

2011 Bodegas Breca Garnacha

Why we chose it: One of our favorite bottles of rather-widely-available sub-$20 Spanish Garnachas, we enjoy the Breca because its flavor and complexity profile is a bit above its price point. The 2011 edition is lushly full bodied, a deep brambly red with flavored that will remind you of cranberries and dark cherries dipped in chocolate. It likes food!

What to look for: A departure from some of the pricier and harder-to-find wines above, we'd consider Breca a go-to in the $20-ish range. We've seen it in both big wine outlets (which we don't usually recommend) and smaller shops. If you can't find Breca in particular, ask around for other solid Spanish Old Vine Garnachas in the same price range. They don't get the same level of demand as alternatives, so will often punch a little bit above their weight.

Big Hill Ciderworks "Standard"

Why we chose it: We're departing a moment from wine to honor the advent of summer and looking ahead to a future post on serious cider making at Pennsylvania's Big Hill Ciderworks. "Standard" is their sweetest, catering well to light bodied drinkers. Here you'll find overall medium sweetness with no added sugars or sweeteners, and no added colors or flavorings. They backsweeten with fresh pressed apple cider to bring a fruit forward flavor profile. It's simply a select blend of apples grown there on Big Hill. More to come from them!

What to look for: Big Hill only does tastings by appointment, and unfortunately doesn't have an online ordering and shipping option. However, their website features a map with a number of bar and pub locations serving Big Hill cider throughout Pennsylvania. Cider not being our specialty, we can't say for sure, but we suspect there are other orchards / ciderworks coming to life around the country who take their craft as seriously as does Big Hill. We love the winemaker-like intensity with which they treat their craft. Go explore for yourself!