Monday, July 4, 2011

How to get 20 bottles of legit wine for <$200

Aren't they pretty? And don't they look a little funny? Since they're all the same size, it might be difficult to tell at first, but these are half bottles, containing 375ml of wine instead of a "full" 750ml. I ordered them from Half Wit Wines, a cleverly-named internet wine store entirely devoted to the sale of half bottles of wine. The novelty!

Half bottles are perfect for my wife and I because we don't often want to drink more than a half bottle per night, and if we do open a full bottle, we usually drink a third or a half, and get less pleasure out of it the next night(s), be it due to oxidation, drinking it with food that's a less-than-perfect pairing, or simply from the boredom that comes with repetition. So we get pretty much 75% of the utility (pleasure) out of the first half of the bottle, and only 25% out of the second half of the actual wine. By buying half bottles, I think we can avoid this imbalance (The only downside is that it's very educational to taste wine over a day or two or three, to observe the oxidation effects upon the wine). But in addition, half bottles allow us to try more stuff on the same budget. They're how I could manage to get 19 different wines, not a single stinker among them (at least by reputation - though I'm a little worried about the ullage level on the Vouvray), for under $200 bucks ($186, to be exact-every single bottle I ordered was on sale, that is, selling for half or less than half the MSRP of the normal 750ml bottle). Got some really killer deals.

They are, from left to right, with prices...

Ridge California Red Santa Cruz Mountains 2004 $13.00
Ridge Estate Red Santa Cruz Mountains 2006 $15.00
Ridge Geyserville California Red 2005 $9.00
Ridge Lytton Springs Red California Dry Creek 2006 $13.00
Lopez de Heredia Vina Cubillo Rioja Crianza 2005 $15.00
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2004 $9.00
Bonny Doon Syrah Le Pousseur 2005 $6.00
Chateau de Bellevue Lussac Saint-Emilion 2005 $10.00
Chateau du Hureau Saumur-Champigny Rouge Loire Valley 2006 $6.00
Chateau la Coustarelle Cahors Grand Cuvee Prestige 2004 $7.00
Joseph Drouhin Chablis-Montmains Premier Cru 2006 $9.00
Domaine Herve Azo Chablis Premier Cru Vau de Vey 2006 $7.00
Marc Bredif Vouvray 2006 $7.00
Lucien Crochet Sancerre 2006 $9.00
Lucien Crochet Sancerre Blanc La Croix du Roy 2006 $9.00
Lucien Crochet Sancerre Le Chene 2006 $9.00
Chateau Clos l'Eglise Cotes de Castillon 2003 $12.00
Chateau Ferriere Margaux Grand Cru Classe 2003 $15.00
Domaine de Beausejour Chinon Rouge Loire Valley 2004 $6.00

So the other night when I typed "half bottles of wine" into Google, the Half Wit Wines website was the first hit, both sponsored and unsponsored. The second hit was this article, written by Lettie Teague, a wine columnist for The Wall Street Journal. While I usually like Teague's writing, I found this column to be poorly argued and a bit insipid. This is an excellent example of Wine Critics Reasoning Poorly, about which I will write more in the future.

Her objection to half bottles is this: (I'm going to simply roll my eyes at the objection that restaurant staff will make fun of you for bringing one with you when you dine) they age the wine faster, since in a smaller bottle, the oxygen to wine ratio is greater, thus causing oxidation (aging) at a more rapid pace. It's not explicit that she sees this as a negative quality, but it seems clear from the context that this is a criticism of the half bottle format. However, it's about as toothless a criticism as I can think of. The first and most obvious reply to such an objection is that it is not necessarily true. Looking at the bottles and their level of ullage, some have very small amounts of air floating around it there, and it doesn't seem that her claim about air to wine ratios can carry any deductive certainty to it. It all depends upon the machines filling the bottles. Secondly, you could employ a philosophical move known as "the incredulous stare." Perhaps you can accompany it by a flippant "So what?" (if you use this in the field, your opponent will most likely sputter and fail to respond meaningfully). You may then expand, "in a wine culture where 95% of bottles purchased are consumed within one hour (please someone find where this statistic originated, because of course now that I need it, I cannot), what does it matter that a bottle which would normally age for, say, ten years, will only age for five?" This is key: virtually no one (in America, at least) ages wine. And when they do, it's virtually never long enough for even accelerated bottle aging to negatively affect the wine. In other words, the contingent of persons, or really of wines, that's she's referring to with this critique is vanishingly small. So, don't buy older-vintage half bottles, and for those of you who want to age wine: buy regular and large-format bottles.

But I could be wrong. I'll have to drink the wine, and then I'll let you know.

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