Health and Half Bottles

With the busy lives we live, eating right, exercising and most of all drinking right can get complicated. I taste wine for a living. This doesn’t mean that I drink for a living. There are days I taste more than fifty wines in a few hours. If I didn’t “sniff, swirl and spit,” I’d have some real problems. As for drinking wine, I try to have a glass or two with every evening meal. Drinking too much can get in the way of being healthy. This is where a bit of flexibility is needed. Sometimes it is a matter of choosing a wine that gets better being opened a day or two, and other times it is a matter of having a smattering of half bottles around.
With the popularity of wine-by-the-glass programs at restaurants, half bottles have become a bit rare, but are very useful at home and at a restaurant. When dining with my wife, there are times that she abstains from wine and other times she prefers a white wine, while I a red. At most restaurants, this is easily remedied with the by-the-glass options, but those can get redundant. The downside is that most by-the-glass selections are very similar and “safe” choices—varieties that are common and prices that are easy to market to the masses. Also the mark-ups on by-the-glass wines are typically a bit higher than those on the list, because there are more expenses involved in pouring wines by the glass—waste, theft, storage and size of inventory.
Half bottles also offer the chance to try an unusual or special occasion wine, like a fine Bordeaux or Brunello di Montalcino. At home, half bottles are a convenient way to have a bit of wine and no waste, which is useful in this economy. Be careful about aging these wines—half bottles age faster than full bottles, so just don’t buy some and forget it. I recently drank a 2003 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino half-bottle and found the wine lovely with aromas of tobacco, leather, spice and softening tannins, and much more accessible than such a young Brunello would typically be from a full-sized bottle. Another time I brought a 1962 Chateau Cheval Blanc to dinner in which time had not been kind, yet a full bottle was amazing only a few years earlier.
Dessert wines are often good in the small bottle format. Since dessert wines come at the end of dinner, usually after other wines, so the smaller the container the better. My favorite dessert wine experiences have all been from smaller bottles, such as Wittman Rieslaner (or any German dessert wine), Chateau d’Yquem and any Hungarian Tokaji (though the Tokaji are three-quarters of a bottle or 500 milliliters).
Other wines, while popular in half bottles, just seem silly to me. Red Burgundy and fine Pinot Noir are more delicate and age quicker, but most importantly go down so nicely that a half bottle seems a tease—but that just shows my own weakness for great Pinot Noir.
Half-bottle selections can be hard to find, but possibly the combination of increased interest in wine, stricter DWI laws and the tough economy will create more of a market for small versions of great wines.