One of the things I like most about wine is that it's meant to be shared. Unlike beer which comes in "single serving" sized bottles and cans, wine comes in a big bottle that's the ideal accompaniment to any sit-down dinner amongst friends.
Kris and I brought this bottle of 2004 Butterfield Station Merlot over to our friend Alex's place for dinner the other night. This wine costs $8 at Total Wine in McLean, VA. (I know what you're thinking - wow, such generous guests... But we were also bringing dinner, and this was just a simple wine to drink while watching Survivor!)
This wine was very briefly our "house red". A year ago or so, Kris and I decided we should find both an inexpensive red and white wine with "middle of the road" taste that would make them easily pair with a wide variety of dishes, or at the very least just not "get in the way" of the flavors of the food. We would buy these by the case, and just always have them around the house to pop open when we wanted a simple wine with dinner but didn't want to spend too much money on it, or if we needed a second, or third bottle when we had company over and a higher quality wine was unnecessary at that point.
The Butterfield Station Merlot is a medium-bodied wine which contains 9% Shiraz, 5% Petite Verdot, and 3% Malbec. It is light ruby in color, lighter than I would expect given some of the "darker" grapes it has blended in. When we first opened it, I thought it had a grapey and somewhat astringent aroma - you could feel the alcohol tingling the inside of your nose. Upon tasting, Kris described it as "smooth and round", with hints of chocolate. She thought it was also tart, something like a sour cherry. Alex thought it was very fruity, especially at the back of his mouth. He said it didn't have a strong aftertaste, which Alex said was a good thing for him. He agreed with the chocolate. I tasted the chocolate and cherries, some dark fruit, maybe over-ripe raspberries. It had very soft tannins, and tasted a bit juicy. That astringency on the nose was kind of bothering me though. I let it sit for a while in the glass, and that seemed to help.
Overall, I don't think this wine is quite worth it for the money. I think Kris and Alex were more forgiving than I was, and would rank this wine as a bit of a better buy. I think this wine makes a really good first impression, which is how it ended up as our house wine for about 6 bottles. However, once you get to know it a bit you start picking up on its idiosyncrasies and annoying habits, and it loses a lot of its charm. So, this is a recommendation against it from me.
Instead, I'd recommend our *new* house red, the 2004 Carmen Merlot from the Rapel Valley of Chile. At only $6, this wine has an excellent quality-to-price ratio - especially when you buy it by the case and get the case discount! This could just represent the general trend of our palates moving away from super fruity wines towards a more fruit/earthy balance, but Kris and I really like to depth and added complexity that the Carmen Merlot brings. I'll write this one up separately the next time we pop open a bottle!
On a related note, I've somewhat recently become fascinated with the wines of Chile and Argentina, and I strongly recommend taking a chance and grabbing a bottle the next time you're at your local (or not-so-local if you're a Marylander) wine shop. I've found that the majority of these wines are of very high quality for the price, and typically have much more complexity to them than you'd expect in an inexpensive wine (not to say that they don't produce any top-knotch wines - they do). I'll write up some Chilean and Argentinian wine tips in a later post, but for now I'd look for Argentinian Malbecs and Chilean Carmenères (Carmenère is an old Bordeaux varietal, virtually extinct in its native France which has found its ideal home in Chile; although still widely grown elsewhere and typically used as a blending grape, Malbec has similarly found its ideal conditions in Argentina, where exciting Malbec varietal wines (i.e., 100% Malbec) are being produced).