Tuesday, December 18, 2007

When Half a Bottle Is Just Right

A friend of mine recently asked for recommendations for good 375 ml bottles of wine. I occasionally buy wines in smaller bottles for nights when we are having a red-wine meal in a sea of chicken and fish, and I don't want a partially consumed bottle going stale on the counter, so I had some tips for her, but not as many as I would have liked. So I hit the web to find out more. (logo from Half-Wit Wines)

In the past, I've had trouble finding a good selection of small-format bottles of wine, so I did some scrounging on the web and came up with two key web addresses for those of you who might be looking for half bottles or wondering why on earth anyone would bother with such a thing.

The first is a recent article by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher of the Wall Street Journal. These two well-known critics recently declared that half bottles were the next big thing in wine, and provided some good leads on where to buy bottles, what to know before you buy, and what to do with the empties after you're done. Gaiter and Brecher remind us, for instance, that wine ages faster in small bottles and that the empty bottles are perfect for short-term storage of leftover wine since the wine comes into less contact with air and therefore oxidation is much slower.

One of the stores mentioned in Gaiter and Brecher's article is my other internet find: Half-Wit Wines. Even before I read the WSJ article, I knew that this online store was a good thing. They specialize in half-bottles, and offer more than 1000 to choose from. Looking for a half-bottle of red wine from Israel? They've got it. A half-bottle of white wine from Greece? They have that, too. As you can imagine, if they have these wines they have an awfully good selection of Californian, Italian, French, and German offerings, too, not to mention wines from the Southern Hemisphere.

If you are still looking for a last-minute gift--maybe for someone who lives alone, or is just starting out in the world of wine--a mixed case of 375ml bottles would be a great gift, and one that they could enjoy for months to come. Of course, you could always buy a few bottles for yourself, including grape varieties you've never had before and some wines that are outside your comfort zone that you just want to try.

9 comments:

Velvet Fog said...

I like the idea of being able to try some more expensive wines that I normally wouldn't want to spend that much money on without knowing if I'd like it or not. Thanks for sharing!

Fredric Koeppel said...

If restaurants would make an effort to stock half-bottles of excellent wines and give them prominent place of wine lists, I think consumers would get used to the idea of them, how convenient half-bottles are, how fun and safe for people driving. Too often, though, restaurants treat half-bottles as if they were poor step-children, not allowed to be at the table with the grown-ups.

Richard A. said...

Deb, do you see any difference in the taste of a wine in a half-bottle as opposed to a regular sized bottle? I had read an interesting article in Decanter (12/07) about that very issue and have been working on a post about the subject.

Dr. Debs said...

Welcome, VF. Fred, I'm with you on this one (what a surprise). Why, oh why, do they serve mediocre wine by the glass when they can serve really good stuff by the half bottle? I suspect it may have to do with the bottom line... And Richard, they really do perform differently in different bottle sizes. This is true for large format sparklers and age-worthy reds (which age better and more slowly in large bottles) and I find the small-format sauternes age more quickly and are ready to drink faster than their 750ml siblings.

joel said...

Yeah, I love half bottles, particularly since my wife is now pregnant and if my sister-in-law doesn't come over I'm usually left with a bunch of extra wine open (preservation, schme-servation!).

One thing though, I think you can get great wine in half bottles but they tend to be larger production wines. Naturally that makes sense, smaller producers would want to make more of the format that is in high demand. That is my theory but I'd be interested in hearing from a small producer why they don't make some half-bottles.

gopaz said...

I agree wholeheartedly with everyone's thoughts above in the attractiveness of half bottles. They allow you to experiment before committing to a wine. They're enticing to casual wine lovers who just want a sip of wine, rather than the entire bottle. And, you can try more than one in one sitting, creating your own little wine tasting. It's a fantastic idea!

A trend I've seen in a handful of wine shops in Barcelona is to stock the 175ml bottles of dessert wines such as port and moscatel. Although I think it's an incredible idea for people who've never tried Iberian dessert wine and are interested in getting their feet wet, I'm curious about the quality and the expression of the wine.

Dr. Debs said...

Joel, one smaller producer who does indeed put things in smaller bottles is Core. I often have a small stash of their wines, all in a 375ml size. And I was surprised at how many smaller makers have bottles at Half-Wit. Crauford, for example, and I like their SB and their Cab.

Gabriella, those even smaller desert wines are a great idea! I think more people would buy dessert wines if they got to experience how great they can be with certain kinds of food and after certain kinds of meals. Great thing to keep a look out for over here, though I've only seen bottles that small with champagne and other sparklers.

Dr. Vino said...

Argh, the carbon footprint! Half-bottles have more glass (=mass) per case of wine...

But true, they are convenient for many of the reasons mentioned.

Kevin DH said...

I have been drinking half bottles for more than 20 years and know just how difficult it is to source decent wine; most of what is readily available is mass produced rubbish or very expensive stuff. If you visit a dozen wineries maybe 1 or 2 will have half bottles.

Using my experience to source good wine at reasonable prices I have just launched halfwine.com which specialises in half bottles, currently for the UK market only.

Almost all of our wines come from small producers who use orgainic farming methods.

I hope those who try our wines will like them as much as I do.