I am a big fan of the half-bottle for wine, including Champagne. And yet, this
super-efficient bottle size is seriously under-utilized in many wine shops and restaurants throughout the U.S. and many other wine-drinking countries--with the possible exception of France, which seems to make half-bottles of wine more available than other countries.
Let me first clear up one common misconception--a half-bottle is not a “split,” a term used for ¼ bottles (.1875 liters). Splits are best employed for cordials, brandies, and so forth, and are almost useless for wines. Half-bottles (.375 liters), on the other hand, are extremely useful for many reasons.
I was reminded of their usefulness the other night when I opened a half-bottle of 1988 Château Lafite-Rothschild for dinner. (By way of background, I used to work in a wine shop on weekends, one that carried a substantial number of half-bottles, and a very good deal came along on well-priced .375 Bordeaux; I took advantage of it.) My spouse and I had finished drinking a one-day old, leftover Dolcetto, and wanted just a little more wine with our pan-fried chicken and broccoli rabe. I was eager to find out how the ’88 Lafites were drinking, anyway--I had some standard .750 bottles; were they ready to drink, or did they need more time?
The .375 1988 Lafite was marvelous--rich and concentrated, with classic lead-pencil aromas and flavors, and substantial but not harsh tannins. In short, this 27-year-old First-Growth was perfectly ready to drink, and should be fine for another ten years at least--even in the half-bottle (half-bottles typically age faster than standard .750 bottles because of the greater ratio of air to wine in the bottle). With this experience, I was pretty much assured that I did not have to start drinking up my better 1988 Bordeaux wines.
Most of the wine shops I frequent offer a negligible selection of wines in half-bottles. In restaurants, it’s even worse; many so-called fine restaurants offer no half-bottles at all. They usually have many wines by the glass, and are happy when you select a wine or wines by the glass. Restaurants make the most profit selling wine-by-the glass; that’s an irrefutable fact. For a little more money, you could choose a fresher tasting, larger-quantity half bottle if it were available. Moreover, when that little bottle is opened beside your table, you’ll avoid a big problem that always accompanies ordering wine by the glass, namely: Who knows how long the by-the-glass bottle has been open?
A happy exception to the restaurant half-bottle problem in NYC is Landmarc, which has two locations, one restaurant in the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle, the other in Tribeca. Landmarc serves no wines by the glass, but a large number of half-bottles. And their half-bottle sales are booming; Landmarc sells between 1,500 and 2,000 half-bottles of wine…per week! I am sure there are other enlightened restaurants throughout the country that do offer a good selection of half-bottles as well.
Half-bottles make total sense--in restaurants as well as in the home. He wants red with his dinner; she wants white or rosé. Have a half-bottle of each. In my case, we often finish a bottle of wine, and want a little bit more. We’ll drink a half-bottle rather than having another .750 bottle.
Frequently, I like to start dinner with Champagne. If I know I’ll be ordering wine with dinner, I often start with a fresh ½ bottle of Champagne—rather than an insipid Prosecco or less-fresh glass of Champagne. I do keep several ½ bottles of Champagne in my cave at home for this reason. Also, It’s good to have ½ bottles of Champagne in one’s home when a guest shows up, and wants just one glass of bubbly.
Another good use for half-bottles is to satisfy our nation-wide obsession with dieting. With half-bottles, you can drink just a little, while not depriving yourself of wine. In addition, we all know that wine in moderation is actually good for our health; half-bottles might be your answer for moderate drinking.
I have found another attribute of half-bottles. When I have leftover wine, I pour the remainder in an empty half-bottle, fill it up to the top to eliminate as much air as possible, cork it tightly and put it in the fridge. Most of the time the wine will stay fresh for several days, sometimes a week or more, depending on the wine and its age.
To sum up, here are the many advantages of the half-bottle of wine:
--Provides the consumer a good way to check on how standard (.750) bottles are aging;
--Offers choices for diners on red versus white, e.g. when one wants red wine while another wants white or rosé;
--For those who want to have more than one bottle of wine, enables diners to drink a bottle and a half, rather than two bottles;
--For those diners wanting a fresh glass or so of Champagne, the half-bottle is a better, safer choice than a bubbly by the glass;
--If one wants to consume less wine, the half-bottle provides a moderate option;
--Provides an effective way of saving wine leftover from a standard-sized bottle.
Let’s use more half-bottles!