le tasting room

Loire wine tours, tastings, day trips from Paris & short breaks organised by experienced English wine trade professionals.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Moderation & Bottle Sizes

Reading Robert Joseph's post on bottle sizes prompted me to think more carefully about the issue this morning. Most wines these days are automaticaly bottled in the standard 75cl bottle (the size of a standard lungful of air for the average French glass blower long ago as explained by RJ). As with many traditions attached to the production of wine - history seems to drag its feet, keeping progression firmly away from the door in an attempt to retain what? The romance, pleasure, correctness of wine?
We are increasingly under pressure to moderate our alcohol intake with each piece of new research indicating that consumption is linked to longevity. That I can limit my wine intake to half a glass or less a day (the level required to increase my life expectancy by 5 years according to the latest report), is unlikely, nigh impossible, but I am increasingly aware that what I drink affects my health and I have started to make more of an effort to limit my own consumption, be it having one or two days off the wine altogther each week (not always successful) or choosing a 50cl bottle in preference to a 75cl. The 50cl bottle is not widely available - we regularly drink Couly-Dutheil's Chinon Les Gravières which does come in this size. It's a useful size at lunchtime between friends if we just want a small glass and it also moderates our own consumption in the evening when chances are we have had an aperitif before dinner and would like some red with the main course and cheese but not a full bottle.
But, I know there are problems with these smaller bottles, the 37.5cl in particular. Over the past 20 years I have worked with a number of wholesalers who specialise in supplying wine to the UK hotel and restaurant trade. There is little demand for smaller sizes and those who do put pressure upon the suppliers to provide them, rarely take the quantities they predict so the wholesalers get left with supplies of halves that age quickly and can't be sold. The lack of turnover of these halves in restaurants (except for the most enlightened) means they are generally a bit tired and don't reflect the normal quality that one comes to expect. Vintages move on giving a disparity between bottles and halves and so we go on. This is where the 50cl bottle would be a distinct advantage.
Personally I feel having a good choice of halves is a distinct bonus - to have the chance to try a different wine with each course without having to commit to purchasing a 75cl bottle gives the freedom to suit the wine to the dish and does not leave one feeling obliged to finish a bottle rather than choose something more complementary. I am encouraged to see more restaurants offering a better selection of wines by the glass but this too requires strict stock rotation and quality control (I think back to ordering a very expensive glass of Bordeaux in a chic London Hotel a couple of years ago - clearly nobody else had ordered it for days and it was oxidised and flat).
On the subject of moderation, I'd like to see pubs and restaurants serving wine in carafes rather than passing over an absurdly full 175cl or even worse a 250cl glass that makes me feel daunted before I've even taken the first sip. Pouring a small measure of wine into a large glass offers many benefits - the ability to enjoy the aroma before tasting, the pleasure of pouring a little more as and when, the capacity to keep the wine at its correct serving temperature. And I'd like to get away from the notion that giving people a full glass is 'generous', that anything less is being stingy. This is something that happens in social situations - it's not as if the bottle is going to run away, glasses can be regularly topped up even if only a little is served at a time.
I know the practicalities of change are often so much more complicated than this, but I am convinced that we, as educators and professionals in the trade, have a responsibilty to lead the way, to educate and provoke change as best we can.
At le tasting room, we deliver the WSET Foundation and Intermediate Certificates. A significant and increasing part of the syllabus is devoted to social and professional responsibility. Whether we like it or not, society has a problem with moderation. While I can't claim to have all the answers, I'll attempt to keep myself in check and make it my job to assist others in doing the same thing. Restaurateurs, hoteliers, producers, supermarkets and educators all have a role to play.

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