Half Bottles, Full Flavour
It used to be that the only wines available in half bottles (375 ml) were dessert wines. Without any trouble, a great bottle of Sauterne, Port or Vin Santo could be found on your favourite restaurant’s wine list or at your local wine shop. But try to find a great bottle of wine in a half bottle and you were relegated to drinking California Chablis, White Zinfandel and (no offence to the Rothschilds) Mouton Cadet.
Oh, how times have changed. Driven by restaurateurs, the growth of the half bottle market is evidenced by the enormous selection of premium quality wines currently available in splits. Some might argue against the need for half bottles if a restaurant has an extensive by-the-glass selection. But too often restaurateurs go for mainstream, arguably boring wines to pour by-the-glass. When presented with extensive half bottle options, the customer is offered greater variety and practicality.
Half bottles ensure freshness. Often, the server doesn’t know how long a bottle has been open for a wine by-the-glass. When dining alone, the smaller size is the perfect size. Sometimes a couple just wants a glass and a half each; or one may want to drink red and the other white. Or you may want to start with a white or sparkling wine and then go to a red, but two bottles may be too much, so starting with a half bottle is ideal. This is particularly the case for a sparkling wine, as a freshly opened half bottle is sure to possess lively bubbles.
Perhaps the most advantageous and least considered benefit of half bottles is the ability to consume a finer, age-worthy wine when it is relatively young. Wine ages faster in a half bottle so those Bordeaux, big California Cabernets, Barolos and Super-Tuscans that, in larger bottles, are ideally left in the cellar for several years to soften their tannins, can be enjoyed much earlier.
Finally, a plethora of premium half bottles has made its way onto the shelves of many fine wine stores. These really are ideal when you just want a glass and a half each. Studies show that people are drinking less, but better. With the variety of quality splits now available, I can see why.
La Crema Pinot Noir 2006, Sonoma Coast, United States ($18.99/375 ml)
Ripe, rich, smooth and supple, but not overdone. Very complete and balanced, with lots of cherry and plum flavours and a silky texture. Long and juicy on the finish with a nice hint of earth.
Hendry Zinfandel ‘Block 28′ 2004, Napa, United States ($35/375 ml)
Delivers lots of flavour, depth, structure and elegance, while showing great balance. The core of wild berries, chocolate, and currants are rich and focused, with firm tannins and a long finish with only a hint of spice.
Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa, United States ($36/375 ml)
Classic Napa nose with hints of mint, cedar, and tobacco. Substantial and full with chocolate, cassis, toasty oak, and earthy black cherry fruit. The finish is long, smooth, and warm. A burger, roast or steak, but definitely calls for beef.
Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa, United States ($45/375 ml)
Youthful and elegant, with black currant, plum, and black cherry flavours that show touches of earth and mocha. Soft tannins make the wine very approachable and drinkable. Drinking really well now, but should develop more complexity and depth with a couple of more years, even in the half bottle.
J. Dumangin Fils Champagne Brut Premier Cru NV, Chigny-les-Roses, France ($26/375 ml)
Toasty and nutty with baked brioche, honey, and apple pie aromas. Fresh, round, and elegant, with clean baked apple, bread and honey flavours. Very friendly style with good acidity. A great aperitif or ideal with french fries.
Tenuta S. Anna Pinot Grigio DOC, 2007, Friuli, Italy ($12.99/375 ml)
Delicate aromas of apple, pear, and honey with a full, round palate and fresh, ripe apple and pear flavours with a hint of nuttiness and lingering finish. Always a consistent standout and one of Italy’s best Pinot Grigios for the dollar.
Tedeschi Amarone della Valpolicella DOC, 2003, Veneto, Italy ($32/375 ml)
Firm and intense, with spicy raisin and vanilla on the nose, floral and mineral notes, with hints of coffee and mocha. Full-bodied with lots of luscious, chewy dried fruit and a long, silky finish. A very classy and well-structured wine. The natural sweetness of bison and elk would pair well.
Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, 2003, Tuscany, Italy ($35/375 ml)
Elegant and rich with great balance. Lovely flavours of blackberry, raspberry with a very pleasant meatiness and hints of tobacco and earth. Full-flavoured and silky and a long, tasty finish. A superb wine from a vintage that was difficult for many producers.
Paolo Scavino Barolo DOCG, 2001, Piedmont, Italy ($38/375 ml)
Rich aromas of plum, blackberry, earth, and violets. Great complex fruit with a full body, wonderful structure, firm, supple and velvety tannins and a long, multi-dimensional finish. Calls for meat and strong cheese.