Corkscrew - The half of it

Small packages can be a good thing

If good things come in small packages, then we should all be drinking wine from half-bottles. DUI preventor, provider of opportunity to try many things, facilitator of fun for single people — all wrapped in a package the size of a venti latte.

Before Prohibition, most wine was sold in whatever container seemed to fit the need. Toting jugs of various sizes, people would siphon from large casks at the local wine merchant, much like water at the grocery store now. It’s only in the past 50 years that the now-standard 750 milliliter bottle came into favor. And then, its little brother, the 375-milliliter bottle, arrived.

These shorties are super-convenient, yet their versatility remains underappreciated and undersold. Half-bottles provide the perfect amount for a school night, two or so glasses, and as Americans slowly evolve into more of a dining culture as opposed to a shovel-in-food-on-the-way-to-the-next-commitment culture, enjoying more variety with one meal can become a reality.

Halves are also decent alternatives to wines by the glass that go stale. Perhaps due to the summer heat, I’ve recently sent back several glasses of wine because they were flat from being stored in an opened bottle. If only half-bottles were more prevalent at restaurants and bars, perhaps that problem would go away.

Then there are those cute “splits,” equivalent to 187-milliliter. Mostly used to house sparkling wines, they’re also spotted on airplanes filled with regular still wine. Keep in mind that the sparkling wine inside these miniatures is not “Methode Champenoise” — the traditional way to instill bubbles and more complexity in sparkling wines, so the quality won’t match a full bottle of bubbly, but it’s certainly a nice alternative to having leftover wine.

Unlike their larger counterparts, smaller bottles are designed to drink now, not collect dust in a corner. The gist of aging: the smaller the bottle, the faster the aging. Aging is a function of oxygen — if the volume of liquid in the bottle can counteract the oxygen, then the wine mellows slower. With only a small amount, 375 milliliters, half-bottles can’t hold off the oxygen. Bigger bottles such as magnums (2 bottles) and double magnums (4 bottles) have more liquid, and hence the wine in these “large format” bottles is affected more slowly by air.

But there are downfalls to the small bottle option: Half-bottles don’t necessarily cost half the price. Most wineries, the smaller ones especially, only have one bottling line, which is designed for 750 milliliters. Bottling the half-bottles is often farmed out or done the old-fashioned way, by hand, and the costs of glass, labeling and the wine itself are expensive. Thus, the less-than-half-price prices — but isn’t variety worth it?

Recommended Wines

Willamette Valley Vineyards 2002 Vintage Selection Pinot Noir. SW = 1. $12 (375 ml); $19 (750 ml). 3 1/2 stars.

Earthy, rosy red fruit that becomes less shy to the nose and tongue after a few minutes in the glass. Tart acids make it great with food.

William Hill 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. SW = 1. $12 (375 ml); $22 (750 ml). 3 stars.

Tight tannins with flavor and aromas of black cherries baking on hot tar blacktop. Perfect for Cab lovers who want a little more oomph out of their juice.

Rombauer 2002 El Dorado Zinfandel. SW = 2. $15 (375 ml); $26 (750 ml). Four stars.

Ripe and concentrated fruit party with blackberry jam, raspberries and plums. Seasoned with spicy cinnamon and white pepper.