The Lonely Wine-drinker: doing things by halves
02 Feb 2010
'All byyyy myyy-self (don't wanna be), all byyyyyy myyy-self anymore.'
Yes, it's Bridget Jones' favourite time of year again - Valentine's
month with its obsession with pink, lurve, hearts, flowers and other
shmucky, schmoozy stuff.
But what happens if you are all by yourself this Valentine's Day - and, indeed, every day? Dinner for one is easy enough, but what about wine for one if you are a bit of a wuss and can't manage a whole bottle? Are half-bottles of wine the answer to over-indulging and a perpetual week-old open bottle of Sauvignon in the fridge?
Googling 'half bottles' produces lots of references to English wine merchants, a cool US website called 'www.halfwitwines.com', the odd Australian sticky, a great article about half bottles in New York restaurants (http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/is-wine-in-half-bottles-fully-worth-it) etc, etc so it seems that the half bottle is thriving outside our shores.
However, Google SA, came up with just two producers - Vrede en Lust and Graham Beck - and very little else. Does this mean that we are all in happy relationships so don't need to drink alone, or that we are a nation of heavy-drinkers more than capable of putting away a full bottle per person per day? Either way, it seems that the little bottles are just not popular here in South Africa, so I set out to find out why.
I spoke to the makers first of all - Dana Buys from Vrede en Lust and Etienne Heyns from Graham Beck - both of whom were very upbeat and positive about them. Their main markets seem to be guest houses and lodges (doubtless filled with European visitors!) who love having half bottles in their mini-bars. Both claim that the extra costs involved in bottling wine in half bottles (expensive bottles, difficulties on the filling line, occasional quality issues) are worth it because they believe it wins them additional customers in the long run. In fact, Dana's belief in this is so great that for several years now he has been prepared to carry the additional costs himself, marketing his wines with a 'Half bottle, half price' sound bite. Rocketing costs mean he has had to tweak that slightly, so a half bottle now costs 55% of a full one, but this still makes VnL halves amongst the best value around.
Cost was the main factor referred to by the retailers with Fiona Phillips from Cybercellar saying she doesn't sell them as there is very little difference price-wise between full and half bottles. Mark Norrish from Ultra Liquors concurs, believing that people would rather store open wine in the fridge and drink it another day than lose out financially. He goes on to say that he has only had one request for half bottles in the last 3 years - and that was for French Champagne - and Mike Bampfield-Duggan from Wine Concepts backs this up with all his best-selling halves involving bubbles of one sort or another. Mike also reinforces the makers' view that lodges and guest houses love half bottles, often as an alternative to wine by the glass, and he wishes fervently that more wineries would offer them in order to provide greater choice on his wine lists.
There seems to be a lot of goodwill surrounding half bottles, most of which is currently falling on stony ground. They are better for you health-wise, allow you to drink your wine in perfect condition, are great for matching lots of different foods and wines, suit couples with divergent tastes, make for an excellent aperitif or mini-celebration, serve as the perfect introduction to previously-unknown wines or varietals and fit easily into a pocket ready for whipping out at appropriate moments. And the cost part? Well, Fiona Phillips suggests we should all switch to using plastic PET half bottles instead - all the advantages listed above for considerably less money and much more environmentally-friendly. I'm sure Bridget Jones would approve!
Cathy is a freelance writer and wine editor at www.Food24.com.
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