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Half-bottles in restaurants


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I only own three half bottles:

2000 Maculan Torcolato (2 bottles)

2000 Taylor-Fladgate Vintage Port

I also have a 500mL bottle of a 6 puttyonos tokaji, but that doesn't exactly fit the criteria.

Anyway, I'm not in a particular rush to drink any of those wines, even though it's really difficult to keep my hands off that oh-so-delicious Torcolato.

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Here's the word on half bottles.

Half bottles of Champagne are all filled from larger format bottles allowing a certain amount of oxydation. The only half bottle of Champagne to my knowledge that is fermented in the bottle is Krug Grand Cuvée.

If you like half bottles to drink at home, don't limit yourself to what the wine shop/liquor store has on the shelf. Ask a salesperson to provide you with a list of all the half bottles they have access to. They can be ordered for you and are normally there within a day or two.

As far as half bottles in restaurants are concernced, my experience has been that wines by the glass and half bottles compete with each other. I chose to have a great by the glass program and limit half bottles to sweet wines.

Mark

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Additional sources of half-bottles:

- Go to Wine.com, select your region, and search for the word "half." This will pull up, in most regions, several pages of half bottles. They have some good stuff.

- Order direct from the producer. If you have favorite wines, especially if they're domestic, just go online and check out the producer's offerings. For example Grgich maintains a half-bottle page and only charges a 50-cent premium on half-bottles. Of course, you have to live in a state where shipping is legal.

Also, point of terminology re a few posts upthread: I was under the impression that a "split" is not a half-bottle but, rather, a quarter-bottle (187ml).

Here's a short article about half-bottles as a trend.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Everybody's right.

They're a production-line pain. They're a great idea for diets and health, and even hard-core "grazing" mentalities like me.

At base, I think the supply/demand curve drives it all. Quoting you ten-year-old figures, just so I don't have to go off and do a bunch of research this second, the average Portuguese adult drinks 24 gallons of wine a year, and 2.4 gallons of soda pop, a 10/1 ratio. In the US, the ratio is reversed, which is why you can find Coke in small, medium, large, commemorative bottles, NASCAR bottles, etc.

A similar ten years back, some folks in CA (in my head it was mostly folks at RH Phillips, but if I'm wrong someone will correct me...) actually fought the BATF to get the half-liter bottle reinstated. The logic was very bright: two non-hedonistic folks could share a half-liter with dinner and go home pretty sober (even moreso if they had the soybean and mashed-yeast entree with their 2/3 -bottle...), and they won on that logic, the BATF said OK, but where are all those half-liter bottles now? On the special-order list at the bottle company.

At one point in the last few years, I was doing purchasing for a company that had a spec for 15amp electrical wall receptacles. 25 years ago, they were the standard, but now electricians commonly install 12ga wire and 20amp receptacles, and don't like to stock 2 sets of parts. Net effect? If you go out today and buy a thousand each, the heavier duty 20A might be $1.05 each while at similar quality the lighter 15A might be $2.20 each. Not a judgment of capacity or quality, just of demand.

Are half-bottles still a great idea? Yes, they are.

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Welcome to eGullet pdub!

You are indeed correct about R.H. Phillips and their 500 ml. disaster. I was involved in that roll-out effort and Phillips invested a huge amount of cash and effort in that project. The bottles looked great and the wine itself was more than adequate, but the 500 ml. format flopped big time and probably for the same reasons that half bottles (375 ml.) are not a bigger section of the market.

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I have written a few wine lists in Atlanta and I've found that generally everyone thinks that half-bottles of wine will sell well better than they really do. Restaurant owners and managers often point out that single diners are more likely to order half bottles if given an option, as well as those couples who really only want about a glass each.

Well, I recently went to a brand new restaurant in Atlanta to dine and ordered a half bottle of '99 Miner Cabernet- I ordered it because I was dining alone and the wines offered by the glass were pretty dull. It really was convenient to have that half bottle option, if, however, they got a little more money from me than I had probably planned to spend. But, I happen to really like Miner wines and I wanted to treat myself. The only problem was that the wine was corked. A stinker.. phhthh! But, a new bottle was presented after speaking to the maitre d' and all was well again. I do wonder, though, if there might be a higher incidence of spoiled wine in half-bottle formats.

I would have preferred, instead, to have more options by the glass as I had ordered the tasting menu and was interested in having wine accompany each course. The last wine list I wrote was in a restaurant that specialized in tasting menus and I offered some 45-50 wines by the glass, and HALF-glass, feeling that having more options to go with smaller courses would be a lot of fun, and I hope it was. But for my lonesome little dinner, all I had was one half bottle, albeit a tasty bottle of wine, that accompanied too many divergent flavors and courses.

C.R.

aka "Greg Koetting"

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I have written a few wine lists in Atlanta and I've found that generally everyone thinks that half-bottles of wine will sell well better than they really do.

I would have preferred, instead, to have more options by the glass as I had ordered the tasting menu and was interested in having wine accompany each course.  The last wine list I wrote was in a restaurant that specialized in tasting menus and I offered some 45-50 wines by the glass, and HALF-glass, feeling that having more options to go with smaller courses would be a lot of fun, and I hope it was.

Welcome to eGullet ChampagneRiddler.

I think these are two key points. Everyone always asks about half-bottles, but then they just don't sell very well. Distributors are always faced with inventories of half-bottles that are a vintage behind the 750 ml. bottles because they don't turn over very well.

In restaurants today cuisine is so diverse it is much more interesting to select from a varied selection of wines-by-the-glass as compared to limiting yourself to one wine for the whole meal.

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Welcome to eGullet from me as well, Champagne Riddler! I am looking forward to hearing more from you in the future here!

I have always enjoyed reading your "take" on the local wine scene in Atlanta, as well as sharing in the wealth of the knowledge you possess!! :biggrin:

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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The problem is that there really are very few restaurants with either good by-the-glass or half-bottle programs. I would be satisfied with either. If I am with a 3 or more people it doesn't matter, but for one or two the 1/2 bottle is by-the-glass is helpful especially since I like to order diverse courses.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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To CR:

All well-taken, and again, the market will mostly do what it wants to.

Half-glasses are also a great concept, if they're fairly presented (see following):

Where I am, it's after 12:30 AM, so if you're having trouble sleeping, I can perhaps help that by reciting some math at you... I'M GONNA PUT YOU TO SLEEP HERE, I CAN JUST ABOUT GAR-ON-DAM-TEE IT--

Standard small-shop retail on wine is around 50%. Wholesalers know that, and they price-point to take advantage, like listing a wine at $79.92 per case, which just happens to work out to 6.66 a bottle, which marks up to $9.99. No surprise to anyone.

At retail, now the big stores step in. Their goal, and I'm generalizing, but it's as true of books as of wine, is to cut the selling price, steal buyers from the small, personal service merchant, then take that volume back to the wholesaler or supplier and squeeze them for some sort of compensation (discounts, which may not be legal, free cases, free shipping, SOMETHING which drags the cost down from 6.66 to 5.33, at which point their "giveaway" $7.99 retail actually yields the same 50% markup, only for a lot more buyers.

(Z-Z)

Meanwhile, over at the restaurant, they have no chance to sell a whole case to one table, so they're paying $6.66 a bottle. If they're pouring right, (and the bartender who knows nothing about wine isn't filling the glass to the rim to bolster his tip) they're getting 5 glasses per bottle, at a cost of 1.33 a glass. But the manager's bonus depends on being cautious and knowing that bartender wants his tip. Most of the time, let's say 75-80%, that manager comes to the same conclusion: LET'S CHARGE THE FULL WHOLESALE PRICE OF THE BOTTLE FOR THE FIRST GLASS, and every glass thereafter, my investors can't possibly blame me for that...

So, $6.66 looks funny, so let's make it $6.75 a glass. I may not win, but I can't lose. If the bottle is thrown away, spoils, or is stolen after the first glass, I can't lose. Of course, I put security procedures in place to make sure that those things seldom happen. So, on a bottle where those things don't happen, what do the diners pay for a bottle that retails for $9.99 small shop and 7.99 big barn? 5 times 6.75 = $33.75, 33.75/6.66 = a hair over 500% markup on cost.

(Z-Z-Z-Z)

Half-glasses? Ok, this is a value-added service, AND there's additional risk for stock to get lost, I have to get at least $4 ($40/btl, 600%), or as much as $4.99 ($50/btl, 750%) for that $10 wine. Plus maybe if I'm Outback, I can muscle the supplier to throw an extra shrimp on the barbie, maybe pay for my employee picnic -- to boost my 750% to 800%.

Remember, I'm pro-small restaurateur. Little guys work hard for long hours, and if they don't demand fair compensation, they disappear, so I'm for finding interesting ways for them to get paid. But big corporate houses hire guys whose job it is to charge a lot for a little by making it seem just so -- well, vibrant.

(ZZZZZZZZZZZ)

Meanwhile, suppose the supplier has a fine Carneros (or Nuit St. Georges) Pinot Noir at $20 (cost) a full bottle -- yes, god forbid, that means $20 a glass if you open it, and MUCH more risk that you won't sell it all and take -- OK, no loss but way less profit. There's a half-bottle available, but the supplier has HIS value-added hoop to jump through too, so a half bottle is $12 cost.

Suppose my linear pricing formula is 2x cost + $7 = $31, and no waste, because you don't open it until it's sold. At 2.5 glasses per half bottle, would the diner rather pay:

-- $20 a glass, $13 a half-glass under the glass-sales model, with a risk of loss to the seller, or

--$12.40 a glass, $6.20 a half glass with the entire product sold and no additional risk to the seller.

THAT'S why everybody wins on a half-bottle program, but it would take a real concern for educating the customer.

(ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ...)

Are we snoozin' yet?

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The problem is that there really are very few restaurants with either good by-the-glass or half-bottle programs. I would be satisfied with either. If I am with a 3 or more people it doesn't matter, but for one or two the 1/2 bottle is by-the-glass is helpful especially since I like to order diverse courses.

I agree.

I do remember Simi had a lovely reserve Cab that I enjoyed during a fantastic dinner I had at the Salish in Snoqualmie Falls, Washington. It was just the right amount, it wasn't cheap but it was great -- very well worth it.

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First, thanks for the warm welcome to eGullet!

I am really looking forward to participating in the forums, although I will likely spend more time here in the beverages section.. I have found this entire site just an amazing resource for all things edible and imbibable (sp?), and I'm sure I can spend many, many hours researching the site for tons of useful information!

Regarding the math, the issues with half bottles vs. by the glass and even half glass, I would say that I will remember from my dining experience that even though I selected a wonderful half bottle of wine, my experience at that restaurant would have been even better if I had had a series of different wines to go with the tasting menu. I had ordered a cabernet, most likely as impulse as I wasn't 100% sure what I was considering for dinner. Of course, that was my first mistake. But the wine by the glass program didn't seem to have as much breadth as many restaurants now offer. There were some dozen wines by the glass, but nothing immediately appealed to me for whatever reason. 6 reds and 6 whites... zzzz! So, my experience was immediately shortened from what it could have potentially been.

So, my argument is that some restaurants would be doing a better service by offering more by the glass instead of offering half bottles, particularly those that offer tasting menus. However, one point that may not have been mentioned is that certain pricier wines (think Quintessa) become a little more accessible by having availability in the half bottle format.

As far as the math goes- I can see you expended a lot of energy trying to show just how far one could go to screw the customer price-wise. Don't worry, we all know.. There are restaurants in Atlanta that I know charge a 400% markup easily. But, honestly, those are fairly rare places. However, as a former restaurant wine director, my goals were pretty well defined by my principals. One restaurant asked for a liberal cost allowance of 38% for wine, but a stricter 19% for liquor, and 24% for beer. The last restaurant simply asked for a 29% total beverage cost of sales, proportioned as I saw fit. So, I elected to make wine the most accessible at the latter restaurant, but be careful about ordering that Hangar One martini. :wink:

One interesting point that was only implicitly mentioned is that pretty much no one ever pays the same amount for the same bottle of wine. Wholesale, that is.. and that's where the fun begins!

In BOTH restaurants, I wanted to create a list that was as global as I could afford, and I wanted to place special emphasis on smaller producers and overlooked wine producing areas. And yes, even unusual varietals. So, the big boys didn't get as much representation as they would have liked. That put the onus upon me to really choose carefully, know the product inside and out, and to be able to train the staff to (hopefully) carry the same enthusiasm as I have for the wines. I didn't want to create the flashiest list around full of trendy wines, but to really highlight some classics.

Putting the list together was fun, and my pricing was fairly linear, although some products got a special boost, and others were priced to sell. It really depended on a few elements of whether it was an unusually good find (like a few bottles of '94 Stag's Leap Petite Syrah), or if it were something closer to the heart like Harrison Vineyards "Zebra Zinfandel." Or, of course, if it was limited (not necessarily allocated!).

I also wanted to try to create a wine list with as broad of a flavor spectrum as possible, especially since we offered mostly tasting menus for the last restaurant. And, I'll also mention that even with the half glass program, and as many as 50 wines by the glass, seldom did we have waste. The reason is simply that with a tasting menu, I had the freedom to choose the pre-selected wines, and the important ability to change if necessary. I'm not saying waste doesn't occur, but it can be minimalized by careful handling of the product. If you can translate the product into something that is meaningful, then, the product is more likely to be treated with respect. Also, I tried to keep a good majority of the bottles on the list in a 'glass-able' price range, so the list could change literally everyday.

Keeping it all in fun...

C.R.

aka "Greg Koetting"

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  • 3 weeks later...

Ocean Avenue Seafood in Santa Monica, CA has a nice selection of half bottles. My girlfriend and I recently enjoyed a half bottle of the 2001 Rafanelli Zinfandel there. Wonderful.

Ocean Ave. features a terrific happy hour deal, 7 days a week: 6 different oysters and a flight of 3 oyster white wines for $8.95.

Liam

Eat it, eat it

If it's gettin' cold, reheat it

Have a big dinner, have a light snack

If you don't like it, you can't send it back

Just eat it -- Weird Al Yankovic

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Some wines I have in.375's include Chateau Montelena Estate 1997 (still drinking nicely), Ridge Lytton Springs, Allegrini Amarone, Carmenet, guigal Brune et Blonde, Ch. Vieux Telegraphe CDP and others. They are available, just hard to find.

I love those little 375s. They go very well with an intimate dinner for two especially if you want to serve more than one wine style.

I have had very good luck with these, except from one producer: the 1996 Allegrini Amarone. Of the two bottles I've opened so far (I still have four to go :sad: ) it is nothing but pure sludge. I have poured this stuff through three separate coffee filters yet when I swirl it around in the glass you can still see the 'sludge.' I'm guessing they were getting close to the bottom of the barrel when they filled these.

I'm finding that more wine shops here in Seattle are offering more 375s this year. I don't know if this is a local trend or if the importers are getting some deals, but I've recently added to my collection:

'00 Durfot Vinens

'00 Saint Pierre

'99 Clerc Milon

'99 Pavie Macquin

'00 Ferrand Latique

'99 E. Guigal Brune et Blonde

'99 Mouton Rothshild

I even got in on a couple of '02 Lafite Rothschild. I figure by the time it's really ready around 2030, I'll have one foot very close to the grave so a 375 will be about all I can handle in one evening. :laugh:

Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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I was talking to a winemaker in the Lange last week who had recently participated in a comparative tasting of the same wines in 375 ml., 750 ml., and 1500 ml. bottles. The tasting was organized by a group of Italian and French winemakers who each contributed their own wines - a set of the above sizes at 5 years old and at 10 years old.

The results were that while the differences between the 750 ml. and 1500 ml. bottles were insignificant, the differences between the 750 ml. and the 375 ml. sizes was very significant with the 375 ml. bottles being clearly inferior.

Quality is a real issue when it comes to half-bottles.

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Quality is a real issue when it comes to half-bottles.

Any idea why this is?

Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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Quality is a real issue when it comes to half-bottles.

Any idea why this is?

Here is an interest online article, Halves At It, by David Marglin - his thoughts might explain it...

There are many theories about how the size of the bottle affects aging, but the gist is this: aging is a function of air. If there's enough wine in the bottle to "absorb" the traces of oxygen, even a proportionally larger amount of air won't cause it to age as fast as a smaller bottle would. Bigger bottles such as magnums and jeroboams have more liquid, and hence the wine in these "large format" bottles is affected more slowly by air. Smaller bottles have less liquid, and therefore will age faster, making them more approachable for reviewers and drinkers alike. (Of course, this also means you can't hold them as long.)

Half-bottles, like large-format bottles, cost proportionally more than their 750-milliliter counterparts, owing to the increased cost of the bottles and the changes required in the bottling and labeling machines. So two half-bottles will often cost you slightly more than one whole, just as a magnum always costs more than two 750-milliliter bottles. Magnums are for collectors (indeed, some serious collectors prefer to drink only large-format bottles of the best wines); half-bottles are for wine drinkers.

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