In an industry where we are constantly reminded people are drinking less but drinking better, you would think more people would be drinking half bottles of wine. There have been some exciting new businesses, like The Little Fine Wine Company set up by Vicki Stephens-Clarkson MW, and award-winning wine merchant Tanners have a great range of halves.
There’s a mix of hurdles to overcome with consumers in the supply and demand model. The supply side is more expensive packaging, putting their litres of wine into double the number of half bottles only really works if there’s demand. On the flip side, the demand is slow because there’s a lack of choice in halves to make it exciting – and if there is a lot of choice, it’s usually French, which in an age when grape variety is the number one buying influence on consumers, is not an advantage.
French wine generally markets itself on region, loyally following its protected designation of origins (aka Appellation d’origine contrôlée) as a control for quality and reputation, as well as upholding the tradition that cements France as the world’s leading quality wine producer. The flaw of doing so is it demands a certain amount of knowledge, or at least curiosity, from the consumer. When you start demanding effort, value for money becomes more important. I don’t mean in a race to the bottom, but you might reasonably look at an £8 half bottle next to a £12 full bottle and opt for the latter.
Half bottles have two major advantages: a wine lover can taste something new for less, which makes it a valuable packaging option for more expensive wines. Secondly, how many of us start a bottle of wine and don’t finish it? It ends up half-drunk and left in the fridge, or you’ve made something for dinner on day two and it’s the wrong wine for it. Half bottles allow for less wastage and more opportunity to try new things.
After taking advantage of a promo on halves at Tanners, I’m all for the packaging format. My other half doesn’t drink wine, so a whole bottle is usually enjoyed over three days. As a wino, this means I can quite easily be bored by it on day two or three. Half bottles mean I can keep things fun, pick wines with dinner, and not worry about having to polish it off another time.
Here’s part one of my tasting journey:
Tasted Autumn 2020, prices correct at time of purchase.
MV, Nyetimber Classic Cuvee (£18.95, The Little Fine Wine Co) – From Sussex, England. It’s been a while since I’ve tasted this, I think the last time was 2016 and I remember it being very Champagne-esque, rather than in a more English (fruity, leaner, softer) style. It is as I recall: golden hue with aromas of custard tarts, toasted pastry and red apple. Deep, rich palate full of baked apple turnover, buttery pastry, cream and oily citrus. Full and satisfying fizz. ★★☆
NV, Szent Donat 5 Bar Brut Nature Sparkling (£9.99, Novel Wines) – From Lake of Balaton, Hungary. Unfiltered, traditional method sparkling made from Furmint and Olaszrizling. Crown cap top. Almost pet nat style with tangy cider apples, lots of pink grapefruit and a herbaceous finish. Would please any cider fan as a celebration fizz! ★★☆
NV, Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve (£28.95, Beckford Bottle Shop) – From Champagne, France. Nose of watery mandarin and pink grapefruit over honey, biscuit and white peach. Smooth fine bubbles with a tangy bite, zingy apple skins, and a bittersweet finish with nutty, savoury notes. Tight and very well made. ★★☆
2018, Dr Loosen Estate Riesling (£6.20, Tanners) – From Mosel Valley, Germany. Clear with a little spritz. Zippy off-dry citrus notes (fleshy lemon and lemongrass) and a tinge of hard-boiled rhubarb and custard sweets. Fresh pear on the palate. Young and simple but zingy and in a familiar, youthful Mosel style with a touch of that flintiness I love. ★☆☆
2015, Dopff & Irion Gewurztraminer Cuvée René Dopff (£8.40, Tanners) – From Alsace, France. Lightly coloured for Gewurz with immediate aromas of honey, raisin and baked pear. Sweetly perfumed. Surprisingly good acidity for Gewurz. Petrolly, mineral and spicy with more pear, almost PX-like raisin notes, dried apricots and Turkish delight sweetness. Packs of character but needed food for me to take the edge of the sweetness/alcohol. Enjoyed with fajitas! ★★☆
2019, André Dezat Domaine Thibault Pouilly-Fumé (£8.90, Tanners) – From Loire Valley, France. Cool Sauv Blanc look, lemon-green. Very alluring aromas of passion fruit, apples, gooseberries, flint and lemon. Youthful, ripe and candied but some superb potential in time. Right now it’s still a memorable sip filled with sherbet lemons, smoked apple cream, green passion fruit, melon and a grippy, charming finish. ★★☆
2019, Remi Benon Beaujolais-Villages (£7.20, Tanners) – From Beaujolais, France. Nose of candle wax, strawberry and toast. Juicy on the palate, stuffed full of berries over soft wood, clove and vanilla notes. Savoury and a touch spicy on the finish. ★☆☆
2018, Jacques-Charlet Beaujolais (£5.90, Tanners) – From Beaujolais, France. Deeply coloured Gamay from a warm vintage and a well-known Beaujolais producer. Aromas of strawberries, cassis and liquorice over hints of leather. A mix of fleshy strawberries, plum skins, fresh flowers and gentle tannins. There’s a freshness on the finish that I really like. ★★☆
2016, Rioja Vega Crianza (£6.40, Tanners) – From Rioja, Spain. Deeply ruby and a few legs. Strawberry jam and cracked black pepper nose. A little dusty for Crianza. Medium bodied, dry and good acidity with a chilli-like pepper spice alongside leathery tannins, Marzipan, strawberries, vanilla and frangipane pastry. Tangy, astringent and bittersweet to finish. ★☆☆
Hope you enjoyed a little taste of the smaller things. Don’t forge to give half bottles a go! Another article with more half bottle tasting notes coming soon.