The case has already been made for drinking wine from big bottles. But what of the humble half bottle? Ubiquitous on airplanes and in hotel mini bars, small bottles certainly can’t claim the cachet of large-format wine. Nor do they, as so many other miniature comestibles do these days, really qualify as cute. They’re just emasculatingly undersized and all too reminiscent of the unappetizing meals they usually accompany. Right?
Not necessarily so, says David Lombardo, Wine and Beverage Director for Landmarc and Ditch Plains. Note: You can read more about Landmarc throughout Marc Murphy Week.
In fact, half-bottles were an integral part of the wine program he helped implement at his restaurants. We asked him to explain why and when, exactly, one should choose to go small when ordering wine in a restaurant. Spoiler alert: half-bottles aren’t just for lightweights.
What was your vision for the wine program at Landmarc and Ditch Plains?
We were always amazed by how people were marking up their wines because we all knew how much wine cost. We would go out to a restaurant and see this bottle for four times what we knew [the restaurant] had paid for it. We said, let’s build a program based on accessibility and charge people basically what they would be paying in a wine shop. The way I like to describe it is that we have a “non-traditional markup” on our wines.
What is a traditional markup on wine in a restaurant?
A wine-by-the-glass program is great for the profit margin of a restaurant. Usually, if you see a glass at $11 on the wine list, that means that the bottle is probably costing the restaurant $11 or even cheaper. They open it up and want to make sure they get their money’s worth. The problem with that is you never know how long that bottle has been sitting there open on a shelf. It’s not tasted before it’s served to you.
And what was your solution to this problem?
The answer to that was a half-bottle program. I was able to offer half bottles close to what you would pay for a glass in other restaurants. It’s opened up fresh just for you. When we started out, I had about 15 half bottles. I wanted more, but they were just not available in the United States. But because of our popularity and the relationships we’ve built over the years, people are now making more half-bottles, sometimes especially for our restaurants. We have close to 100 half-bottles on our list for our four restaurants now.
Other than freshness, what are some of the benefits of half-bottles?
As wine ages, it goes from more fruit-oriented to more earth and herbaceous tones. In half bottles, wines actually age twice as fast as they do if they were in a full bottle. The wines are definitely more accessible. You don’t have to wait 20 years to drink a bottle of wine. Also, if you want to try different wines from different parts of the world, then you can get two half bottles instead of sticking with one bottle throughout your whole entire meal. There’s no waste, too. Anyone can finish a half bottle.
How much is too much for a wine to be marked up in a restaurant these days?
Traditionally, especially in New York City nowadays, you’ll see wine marked up three and a half, even four times in some places from what you’d see it for in a wine shop. For me, because I know how much things cost, it’s a little aggressive. I have a hard time paying $50 to $60 for something I know costs $10. What I do now is order something I’ve never heard of before because I don’t know the price that it’s being marked up to so it won’t bother me as much.
Ignorance is bliss, then?
There was a time when people didn’t know how much wine cost. But wines became more popular and then there was the Internet and things changed. Consumers definitely became more savvy about how much things cost. I’m still amazed at what people are paying for certain bottles. But, hey, if they are willing to pay for it, then God bless.
Ah, so a fresh, reasonably priced half-bottle of wine is even more blissful, then. It’s just a good way to get to learn a little bit more about wine. And they’re fun.
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