Make mine a half: small bottles to avoid lockdown largess

Looking to lower your isolation libations? Peter Ranscombe picks half bottles to help.

GOOD things come in small packages – or so the old adage goes.

During the pandemic, those words of wisdom could well come into their own.

Whether it’s to cope with home schooling or to relieve the boredom of furlough, it’s all too tempting to open a bottle of wine at the end of another day in lockdown.

Yet the chief medical officers’ warning about alcohol intake – to limit ourselves to 14 units a week to avoid damaging our health – is one set of rules that doesn’t change, whether we’re social distancing or not.

That means the humble half bottle could become one way of limiting our drinking while still affording ourselves a wee treat, especially if we’re staying at home alone.

Half bottles have long been relegated to the bottom shelf in the supermarket or that dusty corner of our local bottle shop.

But now it’s time to celebrate those petite parcels – especially when so many top-notch labels are bottling their wines in smaller formats.

Small bottles but big flavour

One expert who’s already cottoned-on to the benefits of half bottles is Victoria Stephens-Clarkson, one of 400 masters of wine and a director of The Little Fine Wine Company, which she launched in 2018.

She highlights the benefits of half bottles for not only reducing wasted wine, but also allowing different drinks to be matched to different courses during a meal.

Just like magnums age at a different rate to standard bottles – there’s the same tiny amount of air in the neck of both formats, and so the liquid in a magnum ages at a slower rate – so too do half bottles.

Convention wisdom says smaller bottles age at a faster rate than the standard format, with Stephens-Clarkson believing Bordeaux starts to show the difference after about five years, and Burgundy after around three.

“In my opinion, this factor would be a disadvantage for, say, a crisp, dry white that was deliberately aimed at early consumption, but for everything else – from a good Soave Classico to Bordeaux, Burgundy and beyond – it’s been a good thing as it means the structure of the wine mellows and it’s ready to drink a little earlier,” she explains.

Although I’m often a fan of the smaller bottle when dining alone, I was impressed by the range of halves available from The Little Fine Wine Company, ranging from South Africa’s Rustenberg John X Merriman Red Blend and New Zealand’s Greywacke Marlborough Wild Sauvignon Blanc through to Italian bubbles in the form of the Ca’del Bosco Cuvee Prestige Franciacorta and Californian treats like the Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel.

Here’s a selection from Stephens-Clarkson and beyond to help you explore these vinous pocket rockets…

Champagne Taittinger Brut (£19.50, Woodwinters)
Few sights are cuter than a tiny wee half bottle of Champagne. What sets Taittinger apart for me is its balance; concentrated red apple and brown bread flavours to balance its crackling acidity. It’s one of the few Champagne houses that’s owned by the family whose name appears on the label, after taking back control of the business in 2007. It’s also James Bond’s favourite fizz in the novels by Iain Fleming. [] Also stocked by Waitrose.

Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo 2018 (£9.95, The Little Fine Wine Company)
One of my favourite Italian whites, no matter the size of its bottle. Fresh lemon, grapefruit and lemon sherbet on the nose and then more savoury lemon rind on the palate to balance the crisp acidity. A great match with seafood or a simple chicken salad.

Louis Jadot Macon Villages (£8.30, Morrisons)
Subtle cream aromas weave in between the pears on the nose, with lots of fresh acidity on the palate, balanced by more savoury green apple and lemon rind flavours. That drop of cream returns on the palate. A real crowd-pleaser – it’ll satisfy the Burgundy fans who want a bit of roundness, but at the same time it’s not dominated by butter or vanilla.

Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (£5.99, Ellie’s Cellar)
A benchmark New Zealand sauvignon blanc and for a good reason – textbook gooseberry, guava and passionfruit aromas, with drier asparagus notes joining the gooseberries on the palate. It’s got all the fresh acidity that sauvignon fans adore, nicely balanced by the fruity flavours. Also available at Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

Chateau Malbat 2018 (£5.40, Tanners)
Classic claret, with a dark nose full of bramble and blackcurrant, before exploding into a much richer and sweeter palate, with blackberry, black plum, dark chocolate and a touch of spun sugar. It’s not green, it’s not vegetal – in fact, it sidesteps all of the usual Bordeaux pitfalls at this price point.

Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2017 (£9.95, The Little Fine Wine Company)
A masterclass in the sensible use of oak. The organic fruit absolute sings, with classic sour cherry and sweeter raspberry jam flavours from the blend of organic sangoviese, canaiolo, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Eight months in larger oak barrels hasn’t masked any of the fruit, but instead let in the tiniest bit of oxygen to help give it a lush and rounded mouthfeel. Gorgeous stuff.

For more stories from Peter Ranscombe’s The Grape & The Grain drinks blog visit