Monday, June 25, 2012

Rant: Half-Bottle Failure

The wine industry has failed with the half-bottle. 

Most wine stores and restaurants stock few, if any, half-bottles of wine. Most wineries do not produce half-bottles of their wine. I bet many of my readers have not purchased a half-bottle of wine within the last six months. I don't think I have bought a half-bottle of wine in the last year. I don't understand the reasons for this failure of wine stores, restaurant and wineries as it would seem logical that half-bottles should be far more popular.

Japanese Sake is often available in half-bottles, usually 300-350ml, and a number of stores even carry more half-bottles than they do full sized ones. Sake producers seem to understand the advantages of half-bottles and thus capitalize on that opportunity. Spirits have long been available in smaller bottles, even as small as the nip bottles which usually contain a little less than 2 ounces. All of these small bottles of spirits are very popular, and once again, spirit producers perceive the advantages of small-sized bottles and have capitalized on it. So why has the wine industry failed in this regard?

There are plenty of individuals who purchase a 750ml bottle of wine, though they will be the only one drinking it. They might only want a glass or two with dinner, and that bottle is too big for them so they have to decide how best to preserve their wine. It will probably only last a few days so they will need to drink the rest of it soon enough. Such people would probably prefer to buy a half-bottle and not worry about wine preservation. Half-bottles would also be a less expensive way for a person to try a wine rather than buying a full 750ml bottle.

The size of the bottle affects the aging of the wine but as most wine is consumed within 48 hours of purchase,   that won't come into play most of the time. Consumers are primed for half-bottles with Sake and spirits, so why aren't wineries trying to fill that desire? It seems a failed opportunity which a clever winery could use to major advantage. Restaurants, which serve wine by the glass, worry about wine preservation yet those problems would be much less if they carried more half-bottles. So why aren't they doing so?

Wine industry, wake up and start thinking small.


Michael Martini said...

The wine shop on our Bellevue Ave food tour, The Newport Wine Cellar, has begun to stock some great splits. Had a Mayacamas Chardonnay last week that was terrific. Always wondered why nobody went after that market. Great read as always!

Frederick Wright said...

I wholeheartedly agree, Richard! All too often, my partner and I are at a restaurant and want different wines to accompany our meals, and the lack of half-bottle combined with the insultingly short pours at some places basically results in us skipping wine altogether. I'm not sure I'd embrace splits in the same manner as 'nip' bottles [of spirits] which seem to be the exclusive province of alcoholics, but instead they should be aimed at the person who is passionate about wine.

CJ and PK said...

No-one loves half-bottles more than us - see our paean to the half-bottle at

But the fact is that manufacturing (and transporting) a half-size glass bottle costs proportionately more than using an industry-standard 750ml bottle. So a half-bottle costs a lot MORE than half a bottle, as it wwre. People are prepared to pay the increased cost for something like a dessert wine, but not for basic plonk. (And, as you admit, the aging factor means most really good wine doesn't come in half-bottles)

So, sadly, it isn't going to happen...

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Michael,
Thanks for the comment and glad that the Newport Wine Cellar is carrying at least a few good half-bottles.

Hi Frederick,
Thanks too, it does seem they would sell more wine if half-bottles were available so it is baffling.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi CJ & PK:
I have heard that before, that it is more costly, but I am not sure I buy that argument. Sake & spirits seem to have no problem selling half bottles, and any extra cost due to that size seems fairly small. So what is so different with the wine industry that they can't do the same? Maybe plonk wouldn't work in a half-bottle, but why not other wines? There seems to be a desire for halfbottles of wine, so wineries should find a way.

CJ and PK said...

Well, let's just consider that extra cost in relation to the price of a decent bottle of Scotch.

For the sake of argument, let's say that the use of a half-bottle adds £3 in terms of the rarity of the bottle, the additional weight of 24 halves vs 12 single bottles i transport costs, the costs of handling, etc etc.

A decent bottle of Scotch costs around £30. So your half, instead of costing £15, costs £18. Not a signifiant increase, and one most people would probably pay.

But a decent bottle of wine costs £10 - and the half, instead of costing £5, will cost £8. Now £8 for a half-bottle of wine which costs £10 a bottle isn't acceptable, is it?

That's why you get half-bottles of spirits, but not of wines.

Richard Auffrey said...

First, your logic supports the premise that other wines beside in expensive plonk can be made in half bottles. A $30 wine would be in the same position as a $30 Scotch.

Second, I would like to see evidence that details the actual cost for putting wine in a half bottle. It may not actually be a 30% increase for a $10 wine.

limeduck said...

I'm just back from Japan, where everything seems to come in smaller, nicer and more convenient packaging, so I definitely agree with you. Half bottles, or as some call them, single-serving containers, are absolutely great, and I do expect to pay more than 50% of the price of a 750ml bottle. Also, I keep a spare empty 375 bottle around at home and decant unfinished full-sized bottles into it to reduce the amount of oxygen in there with the leftover wine.

tinsol said...