This past Friday, Jeff Lefevere wrote an interesting post about wine bloggers and wine samples. He makes some excellent points fleshing out the nature and utility of wine blogging to wine producers, marketers and consumers.
Jeff also makes the contention that wineries should send out wine samples in half bottles. I recognize that this has economic appeal, on the surface, but I must disagree with him.
While half bottles do have commercial appeal – particularly in the restaurant setting – producers tend not to bottle into 375 ml bottles for two reasons:
First, it may represent a lower potential profit when all is said and done. The cost of this size packaging and labeling may make up an inordinately high proportion of the cost of production of each unit. On the other hand, producing 375 ml bottles for press sample purposes only may be more attractive, from a fiscal standpoint. In this scenario, a larger portion of the cost of production per unit is the cost of packaging (bottle and label). More importantly, less wine is being given away allowing a larger portion of the lot to go into bottles which will actually be sold.
Although doing an additional bottling run with 375ml bottles may be cost-prohibitive to some producers, there is a more significant reason why many may avoid producing half bottles: half-bottles are said to age faster than 750ml bottles (which, in turn, are believed to age faster than magnums and other large format bottles). This is felt to be a function of the ratio of wine volume to ullage volume in a given bottle. As the ratio of wine to ullage volume increases, longevity and, perhaps stability, are felt to increase.
I don’t have a definitive stance on this issue yet – although it sounds very plausible. This Saturday night, though, I came a few more steps closer to being a believer.
We visited Monterey this past weekend (no… NOT for the golf tournament… jeesh!). After a day of wine tasting in Carmel Valley, we sat down for a late dinner. We were utterly wined out and the prospect of a full bottle on the table just did not sit well (especially given this restaurant’s markup). We ended up ordering a half bottle of a 2005 Santa Barbara County viognier (which I’d had before) to go with our sanddabs.
The wine was oxidized and faded. These were not the kind of changes you see in a three-year old viognier. It was amber-colored, smelling and tasting like bruised apples, wet leaves and molasses. There was no unusually large ullage, but the bottle was closed with a synthetic cork – the kind with an extruded core. These types of synthetic corks have been said, and shown in some tests, to have a higher rate of oxygen ingress than natural cork or screw caps. Thus a faster deterioration and oxidation of the wines finished this way.
One could argue that the cork was faulty or that the wine was stored improperly or did not have the stuff to last a few years. Even if this viognier had come from a warmer climate and even if it had been made in a sweeter, lower acid style, a viognier should not be like this at three years off the vine. I’ve had half bottles in the past that seemed rather forward but this bottle was an extreme case. I think that the same wine in a 750ml bottle, closed with an identical cork would have been considerably fresher. So, I do think there may be something to the idea that the same amount of air/oxygen will have a much lesser oxidative impact on a larger volume of wine.
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