Dig in for winter with our top five wines for January

Casual wine drinkers, aficionados, and beginners alike: Each month we expose you to new things, educating and diversifying your palate with a lineup of our monthly wine picks. It's January, so we've looked for wines that we want to drink watching the snow fall (something sparkling), in a wine bar with friends after trudging through that snow (Can Blau), by the fire (Post Scriptum), with those great winter meals you eat long after the sun has set (Locations Oregon), or as you dream of spring (Neyers Merlot).  Of course, if you're inhabiting warmer climates this time of year, you can skip straight to the Frosé courtesy of our Australian friends, Travelling Corkscrew. Enjoy it either way!

2014 Raventós i Blanc de Nit (Penedès, Spain)

Why we chose it: This sparkling rosé is a very light blush color in the glass. The flavor notes reminded Meghan very specifically of Juicy Juice fruit punch from the can when she was a kid. Fruit is very light, not overwhelming at all, like a strawberry and pomegranate seltzer. Refreshing acidity and dry nature balances out the fruit traces into something very sprightly, with a little hint of citrus. It compliments seafood (scallops) very well, and cuts splendidly through garlic. Goes well with food, but easily sippable on its own.

What to look for: You can take this one in two directions. Either seek out a Cava, the traditional style sparkling wine from Spain, or seek out a sparkling rosé (or seek out the combination of the two, as the Raventós is). We highlighted this particular bottle in our January post as a contrast to the very good French sparkling rosé, the Patrick Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon La Cueille, that we highlighted in our December wine picks last month. While the Bugey trades on an mouth-wateringly juicy flavor profile, this bottle of Cava puts refreshing acidity to work as a great food sparkler with very little sweetness. The contrast on both great bottles is striking.

NV Locations Oregon, Fourth Edition (Oregon, USA)

Why we chose it: We've long been a fan of the concept behind the Locations series of wines from around three world. From Dave Phinney, founder of the Orin Swift Cellars who have brought us (among other things) The Prisoner and Blindfold, comes this concept of sourcing from highly compelling vineyards in regions around the world in order to produce great wine representative of the given "Location". Oregon (OR) is a Pinot Noir with a subtle nose of candied red fruit. A roundly balanced palate doesn't cross the cranberry line, i.e. it maintains more of its cherry characteristic without drifting into the cranberry territory that some cooler climate Pinots often do. It's smooth on the tongue with a little soft tannin in the finish where nice marshmallow notes make it an excellent pair with sweet potatoes. This, like much other Oregon Pinot Noir, performs very well with food, and is a fine representative of the region.

What to look for: Again, take this one or both of two directions. First, you might seek out some of the great Oregonian Pinot Noir that is characteristically heartier than much of the rest of the world's Pinot, and tends to pair very well with food. Eisold Smith and Brandborg Winery are some of our favorites in that category. You might also put the entire lineup from the Locations series on your list, and take the unique opportunity to taste around the world with a consistently good winemaker. We've enjoyed the Locations France, Spain, Argentina, and Italy in the past. Of note with Locations is that local labeling laws tend to make it difficult for them to assign a vintage year to their bottles, hence their "Non Vintage" or NV status without a listed harvest year. However, the numbered edition concept lets you line these bottles up in sequential order, figuring out which years produced which wine.

2013 Can Blau (Montsant, Spain)

Why we chose it: We sampled from both a newly open bottle, and one that had been open for a day. The new bottle is a little tight, so needs an hour in the air or some decanting. A bit of vanilla pipe smoke and hazelnut coffee greet you in the nose. The pipe smoke carries through, supplemented by dry fruit, winter cranberry, and lightly dusted chocolate on the palate. Left open for a day, expect a darkening of the purple fruit characteristics into leather notes with candied grape and plum.

What to look for: In choosing this wine, we've opted to include a bottle that we see often on store shelves, so should be readily findable if you're inclined go looking. Montsant is a DO region located in the province of Terragona in the autonomy of Catalonia. It geographically hugs the more famous Priorat DOC region in Spain's northeast (about an hour and fifteen from Barcelona). In any case, check out our Spanish Wine 101 guide if you want to dig into this a bit more, but otherwise just ask for this bottle at your favorite wine shop around the reasonable $12-$15 mark.

2009 Prats and Symington Douro Post Scriptum de Chryseia (Douro, Portugal)

Why we chose it: We opened the Post Scriptum after having aged it in our collection for about three years. Despite this, the nose was quite hot with notes of unripened fruit before decanting. A little air worked wonders for a delightful bottle, giving us a juicy yet spicy nose once opened. The notes of cayenne were striking. Well balanced fruit flavors are accompanied but a little tartness and tannin towards the back, and satisfying menthol in the finish. Overall really delightful, and so worthy of the occasion (Christmas Eve) on which we drank it!

What to look for: We have an ongoing love affair with the wines produced along Portugal's Douro River in the northern part of the country. You should, too. Portuguese wine is still under appreciated and undervalued in much of the world, often allowing you to find bottles that perform better than their price would indicate. If you can't find the Post Scriptum directly, then go for a bottle of red from the Douro in the $25-ish price range and let us know what you find!

2011 Neyers Merlot Neyers Ranch - Conn Valley (Napa, California, USA)

Why we chose it: We purchased this bottle after meeting the winemaker. It's a beautiful red color in the glass, with a nose that offers super expressive jammy fruit of cherry, freshly cut strawberry, and pomegranate seeds. Lush mouthfeel carries the fruit components through to a lip smacking finish.

What to look for: I'm admittedly short on tasting notes here because I opened this bottle for my wife's birthday and felt it would be generally poor form to be tapping tasting notes into my phone at the dinner table on such an occasion. No matter, this stuff was good. If you can't find Neyers, I'll otherwise take this moment to encourage you to try some thoughtfully produced California Merlots in the mid-tier price range ($30 - $50). Merlot has a bad reputation in some quarters, but at this price point, and again I cannot emphasize the importance of thoughtfully produced vs mass market, you will find some real gems!