Wine Tips from Wine Director Aaron von Rock of Verbena - New York, NY

November 2011

TIP: Keeping an Eye on the Little Bottles

Remaining Price Conscious

Many consumers are now savvy enough to know that the restaurant markup on bottle wine is much less than on glass wine. A half bottle offers a value-driven alternative to a choice of wines by the glass for anyone interested in less than a full 750 ml. (not to mention the advantages of provenance, variety, and quality). On the restaurant management side, purchasers quickly discover that a half bottle wholesale price rarely represents half the wholesale price of the full bottle. The warning here: If you plan to promote a list of demi-bottles based upon value, do the math! Only buy wines that don’t gouge you and the consumer simply for the convenience of size. We have a duty to support and encourage winemakers who have an authentic dedication to wine production in a variety of formats.

Down in the Cellar

The early-maturing quality of wine stored in half bottles provides both advantages and disadvantages. Most oenophiles are aware that 375’s age at approximately twice the rate of full bottles (this may be due to the higher ratio of oxygen to wine inside the bottle). The advanced flavor profile that half bottles offer can create opportunities to enjoy the wine earlier, or to project the progression of larger formats as they age. This remains especially the case for tannic red wines and ports. Winemakers often concur by creating half bottles for just that purpose. Diamond Creek recently released a "big bottle only" (a five liter bottle!) production of their 1997 Lake Vineyard Cabernet to celebrate the millennium. They thoughtfully included a petite half bottle with the $2000 purchase so that consumers could sample the wine during their own celebrations, and cellar the rest.

Winemakers are also aware of the pitfalls. The treachery of some half bottle production occurs when more delicate wines, despite perfect storage conditions, rapidly deteriorate into faded or oxidized representations. Obviously, this is most often the case with white wines, rosés and Champagnes that are intended for immediate consumption. Even in the case of sturdier wines, a watchful eye must be maintained. In one instance, a Champagne producer refused to continue distribution of their eminently ageable tête de cuvée in the 375 ml. format because the wine had snuck over the hill. Meanwhile, the full bottles still required more time before they were completely accessible. For these reasons, your inventory of half bottles demands that you monitor their status more aggressively. Remember, keep tasting.