There are plenty of times when you just want to relax with a glass of wine after work or on the weekend. Here are a couple of wines I recently tried that are great with food, but just as good by themselves.

Toast Our Wine Country (VA)

1999, Hardys, "Nottage Hill", Merlot, South Eastern Australia ($8)
The market is flooded with Merlot and for good reason. It's one of the world's most popular grapes. Hardy's Merlot has the medium body most folks expect from the grape, in addition to a very soft texture (read not too much tannin) and loads of plum flavor.

1999, Bodegas Balbi, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($8)
If you like Merlot, you might want to give this example of Malbec a try. There are lots of fruit flavor and character packaged with soft tannins. It's definitely something out of the ordinary from one of the world's great (and still largely undiscovered) winegrowing regions.

2000, Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Chardonnay, Australia ($12)
If you like a creamy or "buttery" Chardonnay, then give this one a try. There's also a good balance between the wine's acidity and citrus-driven flavors. It's also a little less "oaky" than you might expect.

2000, Barossa Valley Estate, Shiraz, Australia ($10)
In addition to its terrific flavors of blackberries and currants, this particular shiraz also has a wonderful smoky quality in the aroma making it a perfect match for a cold winter night.

Non Vintage, Duval-Leroy, Brut, France ($25)
The world of champagne and sparkling wine can be tricky, but this is one example that definitely provides bang for the buck (and it's a true champagne). With plenty of structure and toasty flavor, you won't be disappointed. Duval-Leroy also produces Paris ($28) a terrific example of champagne with plenty of body and fresh, floral aromas and flavors. As an added bonus, all bottles display a special silkscreen of the Paris skyline designed by Leroy Neiman.