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Wine and Food Wednesday
Bring Back Half Bottles—Save Me From Myself

By Stephen Eliot

Bring back half-bottles, please! Give the half-bottle format a second chance. I want to drink more than one wine with dinner. I am weary of “by the glass” programs with over-inflated prices for wines that the restaurants buy on special deals so they can gouge me. Bring back the half bottle.

I know that half-bottles mean extra work on the part of producers, but the nominal increase in cost that a change in labels, bottling and packaging is something I would pay without complaint. I know that a wine list well-stocked with half-bottle choices might require a little more inventory management and could reduce a restaurant’s by-the-glass sales, wine profits would not dip for eateries other than those that consider single-glass servings a license to steal.

The topic came up over a late dinner last night. We were tasting back through a series of new Roussannes and Mourvedres for an upcoming issue of CGCW when one of our regular panelists, a winemaker himself, lamented the absence of half-bottle choices, and it was if the light bulb of recognition clicked on over each of heads at the same time. We all reacted as one in our enthusiasm for 375 ml bottlings and in our disappointment that there are far too few of them on restaurant lists. Now, the winemaker in question does not presently bottle wine in smaller formats and so has no particular business agenda nor personal axe to grind. He simply likes the half-bottle size and thinks it makes sense, and so do we. He did offer, however, that when the idea has been presented to restaurant clients, it is more often than not defensively dismissed as a threat. Too bad.

I have long thought that the half-bottle was the perfect thing for restaurant service. When checking out a new list, the first page I look for and too infrequently find is that listing half-bottle choices, and I am excited on the rare occasion that there is actually more than one. Now, don’t get me wrong; I strongly support responsible wine-by-the-glass programs, especially when I feel like experimenting, but with half-bottles, I do not have to worry about how long the wine had been opened and whether it has been subsequently well stored. My significant other and I can comfortably work our ways through two half-bottles for dinner without need for a second mortgage and without worry about driving home impaired. I like the notion of getting a couple of true 6-ounce pours as well, and, while I do not feel chronically short-changed by wine-by-the-glass portions, I cannot say that disappointment is rare.

I cannot say that I expect the situation to change any time soon, that there will be some sudden upwelling of interest and demand for half-bottles. I will buy and enjoy my share of wine by the glass, but I will keep looking for those half-bottles, and I will let the folks who make them and sell them know that they are appreciated by buying them.


by Doug
Posted on:4/20/2011 1:42:51 PM

You were reading my mind, Stephen!  In a perfect world, my wife and I would like to have one half-bottle with our appetizers and one half-bottle with our entrees.  That way we don't have to play it safe with our bottle choice, which almost always results in a Pinot, or feel gouged by paying for four glasses.  So please pass it on to other wineries (and restaurants too).  Much appreciated.

not as easy as you think
by David
Posted on:4/20/2011 8:51:58 PM

The Half-Bottle fairy is one that lives large and bright in the minds of the consumer. From the production and distribution side however, the fantasy of a 375ml segment is delusional. The upsides are low and the risks was well-known. Producers can make too much and have headaches with faster-aging, out-of-sequence wine. Bottling costs (to say nothing of not being "green") are higher and FOB is half that of 750ml. Distributors are relucatant to take oon and stock additional SKUs without reliable sales. Sales people forget that they stock 375ml because fellas, it's a 750ml world.

Believe me, if there was a sale to be made, producers and distributors would make it more important and available. What you see is the marketplace at work. And that's why 375ml are scarce.

Yes, it is hard, but....
by Stephen Eliot
Posted on:4/21/2011 7:04:36 PM

David, I know that 375 ml bottlings are a major pain on the produced end, but to say that they live "large and bright " in the mind of the consumer is, I think, a bit off the mark. "Small and dim" rather strike me as the reality. Are that many people really aware of half-bottles, and, if given a chance, would they be interested? I wonder. The wine-by-the-glass phenomenon has created an entirely new market segment that hitherto did not exist. I wonder if just maybe that the time might be right for half-bottles to claim a bit of said market. I agree on all of the downsides and that it is about the "market", but markets change and the folks that anticipate such changes and take advantage are the ones that come out on top. Just sayin'.

Halves and Half-Nots
by Gerald Weisl
Posted on:4/22/2011 8:39:52 AM

From a consumer standpoint, one benefit of half bottles is that you are assured that what you order is what you get.  With "by-the-glass" programs, the consumer (and winery) takes it on faith that the wine that's on the wine list is the wine which is actually brought to the table.

More wineries are offering half bottles these days (than, say, five years ago) and this is a sign of the times:  they need the sales and have broadened their line-up in hopes of attracting more customers. 

I've also seen a few restaurants offeirng glass pours, along with quarter liter and half liter servings of "open wines."

Hooray for half bottles!
by Matt
Posted on:4/24/2011 10:38:04 PM

Great blog Stephin!  I am a producer and understand that half bottles cost more to make and as a result the margins are slimmer.  But as a consumer I want to buy half bottles when I dine out with my spouse.  You nailed it when you highlighted the fact that for a couple, two half bottles is perfect, two full bottles not so much.  I have received some very oxidized and tired wines by the glass, the quality from half bottles is far better.  I for one am willing to take on the headache of making them if restaurants would be willing to back them up.  By the way, Commanders Palace in New Orleans is looking to expand their half bottle list and Auberge du Soleil has long been a champion of the half bottle list.  If class acts like that believe in it why shouldn't everyone else?

half bottles of wine
by Wendy Van Dyck
Posted on:4/30/2011 11:08:16 PM

We are in absolute accord with you regarding half bottles. We so believe in them that we started, the only online wine retailer that sells exclusively half bottles of wine and champagne. We have over 1200 selections in stock, from all over the world, and the largest selection of half bottles in the United States. Horray for half bottles!!

HALF liters, please !
by Hammond
Posted on:8/10/2013 9:49:09 AM

I want to drink 1 or 2 glasses of red wine, at home, with my dinner.

Even though I use the "air-sucking" apparatus on 1 liter bottles, the second half always tastes like vinegar.

Retail wine sellers ( I want to find this at my local stores, not order it !) should pay attention to potential customers like me and MANY of my friends. We realize we would have to pay more than 1/2 the price of a liter, it's only normal. But why can't we purchase a decent half-liter for somewhere between $7 and $10 ?

There IS money for producers and retailers to be made here !

More is not always better. As it stands I do not buy wine anymore. I miss it, but I refuse to pour that second half into the sink !

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