This post originally appeared in the August 15, 2022 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
When it comes to wine, fun is in the eye of the beholder. There is a right bottle for every moment, every mood and emotion, from classy pinky-up adult drinking to trendy rolled-ciggy natural wine glugging to inviting Carlo Rossi to the party. But perhaps underrated are the quieter times, when drinking a small amount of something really unique and interesting is the right call. It might be a sensible weeknight dinner with a friend, or a solo treat alone; maybe your partner isn’t drinking, or else you’re drinking for two. Or it could be you’re just getting into wine, and want to explore matters of style and provenance without necessarily breaking the bank. For all these moments and more, there is the half-bottle.
A standard bottle of wine weighs in at 750 milliliters, and a half-bottle is 375 milliliters, or exactly half of that, meaning the bottle is smaller, the volume of wine inside is smaller, and even the cute little cork is smaller. They reach drinking maturity faster than standard bottles (due to oxygen contact), and many of the world’s great winemakers gladly offer them as an option. Yet many people instead tend to go gaga over magnums, which are big burly 1.5-liter bottles, or even jeroboams, a full 3 liters in a single whack. Such large bottles fetch ever-higher prices, and are hotly sought-after in bottle shops, restaurants, and the after-market auction world.
Magnums are great, don’t get me wrong, but all this volume-centric crushing suggests something curious to me about an obsession with status and ego and size. (Say less.) By comparison there is very little in the way of half-bottle hype, which is why I think they’re so great for drinkers: They represent an underappreciated asset, and offer relative bargains up and down the wine price chain. There’s something for everyone within this format, from the greatest growths of Bordeaux and sought-after estates in Burgundy to humbler stuff from California and Oregon, not to mention a whole world of sweet wines, sherries, and fortified wines, for which the 375-milliliter bottle has long been a ready match. Whatever you’re into — or whatever you’re cooking — there’s a half-bottle for that.
Finding these bottles can be as simple as visiting your favorite local wine shop and chatting up the staff, or searching online using terms like “375” or “half-bottle.” I think it’s an especially effective (and budget-mindful) way to explore the depths of the vintage wine world, and online auction sites like K&L Wines and WineBid offer an easily searchable way to explore the pleasure of vintage wine from special years — like the year you adopted your dog, or a fast-approaching major milestone birthday.
The half-bottle makes it possible to try wines that might otherwise be a reach in terms of cost. The price will be lower, but the wine inside is just the same, and the way it makes you feel will be every bit as rich. Split between two people, a half bottle makes for about a glass and a half each, which is plenty enough to splash around in happily. And if you can’t get over the lack of maximalism, why not pop open three or four of these little guys at a time, and try a bunch of different stuff? Call this a Short Bottle Summer, and never let assumptions about size come between you and a good time.
Jordan Michelman is a 2020 James Beard Award winner for journalism and a 2020 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards shortlist in the Emerging Wine Writer category.