Driven perhaps by recent over-indulgence, perhaps by New Year austerity, I feel that the half-bottle of wine deserves a re-appraisal. Quite apart from constraining my consumption, there are some valid points to be made in celebration of the half-bottle, even if they do bring me into direct conflict with CJ, who seems to prefer the jerrycan as a measure.
The thing is, the half-bottle is really a solitary pleasure. There simply isn’t enough to share. I have watched disbelievingly as a Parisian couple shared a half bottle of wine over lunch. (At the other end of this scale, I once nodded admiringly at two City chaps sitting down at Rules restaurant to a serious lunch of steak and kidney pudding and a magnum of claret. Respect.)
Does that mean there’s something of the sad and lonely about the half-bottle? Something of the book beside the dining plate, the microwaved meal-for-one, and the failure to subscribe to BT Friends & Family because you can’t make up the numbers?
No; look at it the other way. There’s nothing greedy about a half-bottle to yourself. You can sit alone at a table with a half-bottle in front of you, and project an image of totality; neither profligate nor parsimonious, this is my all.
And knowing that it’s your all, you can pace your drinking accordingly. We all do it; that’s the slug for before, top it up for the starter, leave that for the main… you pace yourself according to the quantity of wine at hand. (And hence there is nothing more irritating than a companion who suddenly says, halfway down a bottle, “Do you know, I will have a glass after all?” Oh, so there won’t be enough left to go with my cheese, then. Suddenly, like a sat-nav taken on a diversion, you have to recalculate everything.)
The half-bottle is all yours, to open and complete. Yes, one could always decant half of a 75cl bottle, and seal the rest for another day; that still provides you with that satisfying sense of completion, watching the level go down and pacing your consumption until the last drops are wrung from your carafe. But there is something about having an actual bottle on the table, connecting the taste and the label, which a decanter can never provide.
And is it just me (and I often discover it is…) but don’t you always find that the first “half” you decant is invariably larger than the second? Is it the difficulty of accounting properly for the quantity in the narrower neck? Or just the excitement of opening a new bottle? Whatever; Day Two’s “half” is never quite enough…
The real problem – and let’s face it, there always seems to be a problem where the Sediment blog is concerned – is that it’s hard to get decent red wine in half bottles. It’s too much trouble for a lot of producers to change their bottling lines. The really good stuff needs the size of a bottle (or even a magnum) to mature properly over the years; the bulk wine merchants don’t bother stocking half-bottles; and in the supermarkets half-bottles are often just “cooking wines”.
However, close to my office is a wine merchant, Uncorked. As far as I can see, the main role of this shop is to provide frighteningly expensive wines for City types with huge amounts of money. I was in here once (browsing, just browsing…) when a chap walked in; the assistant said “Good afternoon sir…Got anything in mind?” and the customer actually replied “Oh, about a thousand pounds a case…?”
(They also have, at the time of writing, four bottles of Chateau La Mission Haut Brion 1983, each at £600.01. Yes, that’s six hundred pounds and a penny. Now, I know margins are tight these days, but… a penny?)
Anyway, Uncorked does offer a good selection of half-bottles. Perhaps instead of a moderately good magnum, City boys now limit themselves to a good half-bottle at lunchtime – or perhaps it’s to offer something to penniless plebs like me – but there are half a dozen interesting halves of red in the shop, and online Uncorked list 23 half-bottle reds, (click on Bt Sz in their list to see) including some serious Bordeauxs – Pichon-Longueville Lalande 2005 at £40.80 a half-bottle, anyone? Apart from that one, the rest are below £20, and there’s something exciting to me about seeing a wine list with good Bordeauxs priced affordably in the ‘teens, even if you are only getting half the quantity.
And perhaps that’s the thing; half-bottles are an opportunity to experience wines you couldn’t afford by the bottle. Lesser quantity, higher quality; isn’t that the New Year resolution of many? Not CJ, I suspect, but if so, perhaps this is the answer. Sometimes, it can be better to do things by halves.