If asked, I imagine most people would admit that when they walk into a wine store, they fly right by the half-bottle section. In fact, a lot of people probably do not even realize it is there. That was certainly the case for me for many years. The half-bottle of wine is nothing if not underappreciated.
It makes some sense when you think about it. I mean, it’s a weird in-between size — less than a full bottle but more than the single-serving cans of wine that have become so popular lately. The selection is usually limited; and on top of that, the half-bottle doesn’t really lend itself to specific occasions or circumstances. By that I mean, no one heads to a wine store thinking, “I really need a half-bottle.”
With all of that said, I would argue that the half-bottle is actually one of the wine industry’s biggest utility players. It’s the unsung hero, if you will. Sure, it’s not as elegant as a full bottle; nor is it as fun to buy. But utility players are not known for being showy or commanding all the glory. No, utility players by definition are players that come through in a clutch, no matter what the situation. And that to me is exactly what makes the half-bottle so great.
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I didn’t always feel this way. It took me a while to discover the beauty and versatility of the half-bottle. My first epiphany occurred several years ago when my sister and I were going through a big BYOB restaurant phase. Because she is prone to headaches, she can’t really drink red wine. I, for whatever reason, have a hard time with white. This means that we couldn’t ever split a full bottle when we went out to dinner. At some point though, we realized that — a-ha! — we could each just buy a half-bottle of our own preferred varietal. And we never had any trouble at BYOB restaurants again.
Since then, I’ve discovered other ways the half-bottle comes in handy, ways that I took for granted before. Like, it’s the perfect amount of wine for a night in alone. While you could buy a full bottle and cork it at the end of the night, it’s so much more practical for one person to buy a half-bottle, especially if you know you’re not going to get around to finishing the second half of the bottle before the wine goes bad. Now, I’ll admit that I tend to go for a full bottle when I’m staying in, but only because I do my “wine nights in alone” on weekends, when I can finish the bottle the next evening. Also, on Friday nights I almost always end up wanting a little bit more than half a bottle, which I’m sure comes as a shock to NO ONE. With that said, during a lone weeknight when you desperately need some wine but have to get up for work the next day, the half-bottle is perfection.
It’s also perfection for those nights—alone or with others—when you cannot for the life of you decide what you want to drink. Red wine or white wine? Pinot Noir or Malbec? Or my own personal agony, red wine or sparkling? It’s such a hard decision to make when I’m really craving sparkling but don’t know if I can go the distance with it all evening. Thanks to the half-bottle, I don’t have to choose. I just buy one of each and play it by ear as the night goes on.
In addition to its versatility, the selection of half-bottles isn’t actually half bad (pun intended) these days. I’m not saying it’s robust— it’s obviously nowhere near that. But most wine stores have at least a few options in three of the four big categories: red, white, and sparkling. Rosé, I will admit, is usually missing from the selection; but the range of sparkling wines more than makes up for it — which makes sense, since you can’t re-cork it.
If you’re a red drinker, I also recommend the half-bottles of Catena Malbec and The Pinot Project Pinot Noir. They happen to be two of my favorite wines, so the fact that they come in half-bottle versions was in and of itself a reason for me to give the half-bottle a try.
If I were a sports fan, I would end this piece by referencing Hanley Ramirez, Ben Zobrist, or one of the other baseball players whose names popped up when I googled “best utility players of all time.” Unfortunately, I’m not as versatile in my interests as the half-bottle is in function, so instead I’ll leave you with the more classic “jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none” reference, noting, of course, that the full version of the phrase is actually, “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”
If you haven’t already, it’s time to give the half-bottle a try.