By The Glass
Enjoy more variety with half bottles
One of my first memorable encounters with upscale cuisine was a senior prom many years ago -- dining at the Spindrifter in Kahala Mall. My classmate and I were on a double date looking GOOD in our tuxedos. Our dates were quite impressed that these boys from Kalihi cleaned up so well.
I was a class act all the way up to the fateful moment when our first courses arrived. I tasted mine and in astonishment sputtered out, "THIS SOUP IS COLD!"
My date asked what I ordered. I lifted the bowl and discovered it sitting on a bowl of ice. My friend said, "Of course, it is. Vichyssoise is a chilled potato soup."
Fast forward. While I now know my way around a menu fairly well, I am still an adventurous diner who often tries the unfamiliar and experiments in the kitchen at home. Because food and wine have been an integral part of my adult life, I am constantly looking for new ways to fine tune my cooking, as well as hone my blind-tasting skills by trying more wines.
To expand my wine horizons, I've taken to half-bottles -- a great way to experience variety while maintaining freshness for just a nominal increase in price.
I can recall 15 or so years ago when half-bottles were in abundance; but they've grown short in supply and demand. Producers struggled with maintaining profitability, adjusting their bottling and packing lines to accommodate the smaller-sized unit amid a cork shortage.
The modernization of wine-by-the-glass programs and the introduction of the Cruvinet wine-service system allowed restaurateurs and consumers alike to extend a larger bottle's shelf-life. As a result, many wineries discontinued the smaller format.
Over the past year, I've noticed an increase of half-bottle selections. I am happy to herald the return of the half-bottle with a few of my favorites:
For a crisp white with lighter cuisine, consider the gruner veltliner grape from Austrian producer Hirsch "Helligenstein" 2006 ($21). A warmer-textured Chardonnay Premier Cru Chablis by Herve Azo 2006 ($38) with brisk mineral and citrus tones is great with shellfish or as an aperitif.
Moderate- to fuller-flavored whites include the rich and floral Napa Valley sauvignon blanc by Duckhorn Vineyards 2006 ($26), "Dutton Ranch Vineyard" Chardonnay 2006 by Patz & Hall ($39) and a great French meursault by Francois Jobard 2004 ($41) with wonderful hints of golden apples, brioche and a surprisingly long finish.
Light to moderately textured reds include the elegant berry-toned Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir by Merry Edwards 2005 ($38) and a classic Rioja Reserva by Bodegas Muga 2003 ($) with its classic cedar, dried-cherry and blackberry nuances.
Toward the fuller flavors of bolder reds, a soulfully rich bandol by Domaine Tempier 2005 ($60) from the mourvedre grape compliments roasts, lamb and heartier cuisine.
Whether for the pleasure of enjoying a memorable wine or experimenting in the kitchen, consider the selection of half-bottles at your local wine shop.
In Vinos Veritas.
Kevin Toyama is at sommelier at the Halekulani and an advanced certificate holder from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org