Does wine age well in half-bottles?

Mar 5, 2014

Q: I have quite a collection of half-bottles. Will wine age well in these bottles?—Christy S., Cincinnati

A: It's a commonly held belief that smaller bottles of wine age more quickly than their larger counterparts. The reasoning goes like this: Oxygen, which is the crucial variable in how wine evolves, is present in roughly similar quantities in any bottle of wine, and so will have a greater effect on a smaller volume of wine. As a wine bottle's ullage (fill level) changes due to evaporation, its risk of harmful oxidation grows too. It stands to reason that small bottles should experience these effects acutely.

Unsurprisingly, then, 375ml bottles—half the size of standard 750ml bottles—have not been favored by collectors who look for longterm aging potential. In question, however, is the degree of difference between half-bottles' and regular-sized bottles' life spans. Wine Spectator's James Laube recently conducted a study addressing this question; he found that although the half-bottle in his experiment did seem more advanced than the larger bottles, it was only "ever so slightly" more evolved.

Whether collecting half-bottles makes sense for you is a matter of personal choice. For some, the most obvious benefit of half-bottles—that you can open them guilt-free without worrying whether you will finish 750ml of wine or more—easily outweighs the risk that the bottles may not live forever. In some cases, a faster evolution may be preferable. Certain collectors may gravitate toward half-bottles for their novelty, since usually few are produced. Others, meanwhile, may decide that the difference in aging potential is not great enough to influence their purchasing decisions at all.

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