Celebrate National Wine Day with our favorite bottles from the first half of 2017

May is a big month for wine themed holidays and celebrations. We've not only celebrated Oregon Wine Month and Aussie Wine Month, but tomorrow, May 25th, is National Wine Day in the United States. While we wish this occasion rose to the level of day-off-from-work holiday, we're settling for five of our favorite wines we've reviewed thus far this year. Think of this as a midyear preview of our "Best of 2017" lineup. Cheers!

Background Reading: Best wine of 2016: Top 10 picks for the ultimate Wine Flight

2011 Craggy Range Chardonnay Single Vineyard Kidnappers Vineyard (Hawke's Bay, New Zealand)

We reviewed this lovely New Zealand Chardonnay as part of our Best of May lineup. It has had a really good life, still fresh and sprightly after several years. The nose surprised us as being nothing like a typical Chardonnay from other parts of the world. Green apple dominates the entire experience. There's a nice little zing here, but where a Sauvignon Blanc would have lots of grass in the finish, this Chardonnay rounded off with subtle sweet cream. Overall, this bottle is exactly what we'd expect of white varietals from New Zealand, and was really enjoyable. New Zealand produces a very distinct style of white wine, every varietal distinguishable from the same varietals made elsewhere in the world. Look for a New Zealand Chardonnay in the $20 - $30 price range and open yourself up to something different.

2015 Meyer-Fonné Edelzwicker (Alsace, France)

From our Best of February lineup... Always interesting, an Edelzwicker is a blend of any white grapes from France's Alsace AOC (that's "Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée", a recognized wine region in France). This one, in particular, is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Chasselas, and Riesling. More dry than a Alsace's signature Gewürztraminer (indeed, there is no Gewurtz here whatsoever), we enjoyed the nose of citrus, stone, and a little lemon grass. The palate effervesces with candied citrus, a little petrol, and those sophisticated slate qualities that we think really make Alsatians shine. It nicely balances dryness and sweetness -- a little sharp sweetness we'd say -- with good sprightly characteristics that give this wine a lot of character. Most wine shops are not exactly known for their expansive selection of Alsatian wines, but any respectable merchant will have a few (usually Riesling or Gewürztraminer. Ask them to order you an Edelzwicker, but otherwise settle for a Gewurtz (Alsatian Gewurtz is one of our favorite wines).

2013 Becker Vineyards Reserve Tempranillo (Texas, USA)

The urban terrain of one of 21st century America's most vibrant cities melted into rolling hills, a curious mix of green and grey driving west from Austin into the wine country of the Texas hills. Rain poured sadly down, but the pastoral serenity of this place was as lovely as it was surprising to be found in a state conceptualized by most who are not from here as an endless prairie of scorched earth and heat. We had come looking for Becker Vineyards, the next chapter in our long standing fascination with wine from places you'd not expect, and surely but the first chapter in our flirtation with wine from Texas Hill Country. Somehow the presence of Tempranillo in this lineup didn't surprise me, as I suspect this area produces a few similar climatic patterns as some of the world's great Tempranillo regions. Hot days, cool nights -- Toro, Spain -- anyone? We were told that 2013 was a bit of a dry year, which rings true from the very concentrated and robust red fruit notes we found in its vintage bottle. It's fruit-forward, yet also smokey, with a bit of spice reminiscent of a good Cabernet Franc wine. This was our favorite bottle in the lineup (surprise, surprise).

Background Reading: Becker Vineyards is making wine you should seek out, and go visit, in Texas Hill Country near Austin

2012 Bodegas y Viñedos Maurodos Toro Viña San Román (Toro, Spain)

The flagship San Román has been a market winner for Toro, taking in a well-deserved 95 point rating at #26 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 wines of 2016. You know this wine is big, bold, and beautiful from the very first brush. We found there to be rather alcoholic hot weather fruit notes in the nose, cherry, and just a touch smoky. Tongue coating tannins give way to velvety cherry, with a richly warm sense of cedar and smoke. Made exclusively from the Tinta de Toro grape (the local name for Tempranillo), this is one of the finest examples of wine from Toro that we have found. It's robust personality meeting Old World styling, the perfect cross over wine for those who enjoy the big New World reds. We recommend drinking San Román with food, particularly something cedar or hickory smoked. We paired this wine with one of the most incredible lunches we've ever had at a restaurant called El Chivo, just down the street from the winery in the town of Morales de Toro. It was brilliant with the chickpeas and calamari of the first course, and particularly with the traditionally prepared lamb in the main course. San Román is exported and distributed worldwide.

Background Reading: Meet the stunning San Román wines of Toro, Spain

2009 Fowles Wine "Ladies who Shoot their Lunch" Shiraz (Strathbogie Ranges)

We love Fowles Wine, having shared this excellent "Ladies who Shoot their Lunch" Shiraz as part of our May is Aussie Wine Month lineup, and their "Are you Game" Sauvignon Blanc as a recommendation on Drink Wine Day in February. I wrote then that, "a conscious desire to produce food wines -- specifically those that pair well with the likes of wild game and the fish you've caught -- drives the wine making ethos here. We've paired their 'Ladies who Shoot their Lunch' Shiraz with West Virginia venison, and love their whites with all manner of seafood." Their 2009 vintage was excellent to say the least, a brilliant ruby red color with a complex nose of earthy farm, rhubarb, hearth fire, and incense. The palate is itself a bit smoky, with rich hints of deer jerky, cedar plank, and red fruits (of course). Cigar notes evolve as the bottle is open for a little while, with additional bits of green pepper asserting themselves after an hour or so. May 2017 is prime time for drinking this 2009 vintage.

Bonus Entry: 2016 Stone Tower Estate Viognier (Virginia, USA)

This great Viognier is every bit as deserving as the other five, but we didn't have a picture of its label... so we're throwing it in as an extra!

You'd not expect this at the end of a country road -- stones crackling, trees bending, and through the thicket, green rolling hills and mountains beyond, stretched beneath soft clouds patched across the cerulean sky -- but this is where you will find the immense (by Virginia standards) Stone Tower Winery, a rare feat of a winery that manages to perfectly blend its big, fun atmosphere with seriously well-made wine. Stone Tower, it seems, is absolutely the winery that Virginia needs at this point in its development as a truly great wine region: 306 acres worth of room to grow, a knack for delighting throngs of visitors, and a real devotion to making quality wine. This is where you go with a group when you want to have a fun time, but aren't willing to sacrifice your wine standards to do it. Same grape as the Wild Boar Viognier, but grown there at Stone Tower Winery, this lovely estate wine is aged for about eight months in a 50/50 blend of French and American oak barrels (including some "neutral", i.e. barrels that are several years old). A definite food wine, we loved the really pronounced coconut notes in the palate. Try pairing it with oysters and white fish dishes.

Background Reading: Big, lively, and high quality Stone Tower Winery is a great addition to Virginia winemaking