English poet William Cowper, in 1785 as part of a poem he titled “The Task,” penned the words, “Variety is the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor.”

Anyone who has read my wine columns (from 1976!) for at least a short while knows that I live by that code. Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, Bordeaux and Burgundy can be excellent (not to mention iconic), but to me great wines are everywhere where a grower works diligently to raise up an obscure varietal, where winemakers strive to elevate the ordinary by envelope-pushing tactics.

It’s why I adore dry Rieslings, Australian Semillons, German Silvaners, Cabernet Francs, cold-climate Syrahs, Grenaches, Lagreins, Grüner Veltliners, Gamays, Petite Sirahs, and Barberas as much as I do. And my adoration for these wines isn’t the end of it by a longshot.

As Cowper praised the variety available in our worlds, I revere two dozen or more obscure wine grapes and the wines they make, including some that most people never heard of, such as Verdicchio, Noiret, Seyval, Arneis, Carignane, dry sherry, and Lemberger.

To me, a meal with just one wine is an experience wasted. I prefer to have smaller sips of more than one wine at dinner whenever possible, starting with a white or rosé, then moving to a different wine with the meal, such as a red or a 2-day-old Chardonnay. It’s one reason we have many bottles open at one time.

But harkening back to a recent column about saving leftovers of already-opened wines, that chore may be avoided – which leads us to the most logical conclusion: how wonderful it is that many wineries still make half bottles of wine.

Yes, half bottles (375 milliliters, 12.68 ounces) cost slightly more than half the price of full bottles, but a half bottle allows us to experience two different wines in an evening without having to worry about leftovers. And this tactic allows for two different flavor experiences at the same meal.

The problem is that if you happen to love a particular wine, half bottles give us only two substantial glasses and some couples do not think that’s enough to go with a meal. But half bottles still have a place in our society.

Jackson Family Wines, for example, still offers several wines in half bottles, notable its Vintners Reserve Chardonnay, an extremely popular wine especially good for picnics (it’s easier to chill half bottles) and in hotel mini-bars in which the refrigerators are small and won’t accommodate full bottles.

Jackson makes half bottles of the excellent 2017 Hartford Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($22), 2014 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon, Mr. Veeder ($36) as well as the highly regarded 2017 Cambria “Katherine’s Vineyard” Chardonnay ($11).

Dry Creek Vineyard in Healdsburg also makes its popular Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet in half bottles.

Many other wine companies offer half bottles of popular wines because they allow newcomers to try their wines without having to buy a pricier full 750-ml bottle, which may turn out to be less than expected, quality-wise.

In a typical scenario, a full bottle of a wine that sells for $30 would cost about $18 in a half, accommodating for the extra costs involved in making them.

A few important tips when considering half bottles:

  • Smaller bottles age faster than do 750-ml bottles, so buy younger wines in half bottles and consume them sooner.
  • Smaller bottles that are often called “splits,” containing 187-ml of wine, have an extremely short shelf life. They’re mostly seen on airlines, which is one reason I see quality problems there when the pandemic subsides. Airline inventories of 187s bought many months ago may be significantly faded due to less travel during the pandemic, not to mention the airlines’ wine storage conditions (less-than-ideal).

Those two issues make it very likely that much of that wine will be spoiled when airline travel returns.

  • Needless to say, consume all 375-size wines sooner than you would full bottles. And don’t age them as long as you would full bottles. They deteriorate faster. (Don’t age 187s at all.)
  • Though half bottles have a shorter shelf life, they may be the only way to get some in-demand wines that sell out in full-size bottles.
  • Many dessert wines are bottled only in half bottles since we usually pour smaller amounts of such sweet wines.
  • Empty half bottles are handy to have when 750-ml bottles are partially consumed and you want to save the rest. Half bottles are easier to put into the fridge and have less oxygen than larger sizes.

Winemakers and most wine collectors say that the best size bottle in which to age red wines is the magnum (50.7 ounces). There are several reasons for this, including that it’s hard to find perfect sizes of corks for larger bottles.

Giant bottles, up to nine-liter bottles (the latter size holds 12 standard bottles!) can be sensational if the wine is properly made. They can age beautifully. Just be prepared with enough people to finish the wine.

Two years ago, we opened a nine-liter bottle of 1981 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon, Private Reserve, that had been bought on release for a special occasion. That day, at a wedding, 70 persons had glasses of it and it was so large it would easily have served 80. Because Beringer worked diligently to make sure the cork fits perfectly in the large bottle, the wine was impeccable, and showed little sign it was even 20 years old, let alone more than 30!

Wine of the Week

2019 Finca Los Olmos Torrontes, Mendoza ($8) – Torrontes is an aromatic white grape from Argentina that usually makes a slightly sweet sipping wine, and here the producer made the wine a bit drier than usual, and the floral nose is more muted than in some regions. A delightful version of a popular aperitif.



Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a subscription-only wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com. He is also co-host of California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon on KSRO Radio, 1350 AM.