Better by halves

By: Bob Campbell MW

Why is the standard wine bottle size 750ml?

  1. That’s as much as a couple should drink in a day
  2. Wine lasts longest when stored in a bottle that size
  3. A case of 12 x 750ml bottles is below the maximum carton weight approved by OSH
  4. None of the above

If you answered “none of the above” you are correct. The real answer is that 750ml is the approximate size of a glass-blower’s lungs, or at least the size of a glassblower’s lungs when bottles were first made several hundred years ago.

Glassblowers no longer make wine bottles but, curiously, we’ve adopted their lung capacity as the standard size for wine bottles throughout the world. In most cases 750mls is a handy size. They fit easily into the fridge, they’re not too heavy, easy to pour and more often than not a 750ml bottle provides enough wine for two people during and after the evening meal. If there’s wine left over you can re-seal the bottle, place it in the fridge (do this with white and red wine) and the wine will still be pleasant to drink the following day.

Don’t be a slave to habit. There are occasions when it’s worth seeking an alternative bottle size.

BYO Halves

How often do you visit a BYO restaurant and find you have to make one bottle suit two courses for two people? The chances are if you brought a bottle of white wine neither of you will choose a red meat course for entrée or main. Think how useful it would be if you’d arrived with a half-bottle (375ml) of white and a half-bottle of red.

“Ah”, I hear you say, “the trouble with half-bottles is a lack of choice and the fact that we’re forced to pay a premium price for them.” Not if you make your own. Try this.

  1. Buy a couple of half-bottles sealed with a screwcap. Kumeu River Sauvignon Blanc $11 (tastings), Chardonnay $18.50 (tastings) and Pinot Gris $14 (tastings) are all available from the winery in half-bottles (phone 09-412 8415). When I visited recently they were selling half-bottles of a very palatable 2005 Sauvignon Blanc for an extremely modest $8 each.
  2. Enjoy the contents but save the bottle and cap, carefully washing both.
  3. When you next plan to open a 750ml bottle but only want to drink half of it, fill your clean half-bottle, re-seal it by screwing the cap tightly and use a sticky label to identify the wine.

Re-filled half-bottles will, in my experience, last for many weeks without any loss of quality.

Sherries and Stickies

Dessert wines, such as sweet botrytised Riesling, are mostly bottled in half bottles (another source of bottles for re-bottling). These wines are so intensely sweet and flavoursome that a small bottle will usually satisfy four people when served with dessert at the end of a meal.

Spain’s leading sherry producer, Lustau (tastings), now distributes many of its top wines in half bottles. If you’re not a sherry drinker buy a half-bottle of Amontillado los Arcos $22.95 (tastings) and serve with tapas for a really special treat. This dry, delicate and exquisitely nutty wine will introduce you to the pleasures of truly great sherry.

Seasoned sherry drinkers must buy a half-bottle of Manzanillo Papirusa $21.50 – a pure, fresh, bone-dry and ethereal wine with concentrated nutty flor yeast characters. Serve it chilled with olives and tapas.  Keep leftovers in the fridge and drink within a week to preserve freshness.

Half-bottle bargain

Kumeu River 2005 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (375ml) $8 (from the winery)

Because half-bottles are not big sellers and wineries have to bottle a reasonable quantity to make them worthwhile they have the potential to become bargains. This is a terrific wine, still fresh and with typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc characters. Better buy a case.

Half-bottle sticky at a super price

Forrest Estate 2007 Late Harvest Marlborough Riesling (375ml) $20

A moderately sweet Riesling with lovely lime and mineral characters. Good now but will repay cellaring for a few years. Not excessively sweet. Enjoy with fresh fruit salads. – view on

Half-bottle sensational sherry

Dry Oloroso Don Nuno (375ml) $30

Sip this remarkable, old wine as an aperitif, with tapas or consommé and after the meal in front of a roaring fire with walnuts and blue cheese. The earth may move a little. Roasted chestnut, liquorice and anise flavours. A true classic. – view on

Three obscure wine descriptors

By: Bob Campbell MW

When I started running wine classes over 30 years ago, I used the Wine Aroma Wheel designed by Dr Ann C Noble to help kick-start student’s wine vocabulary. I subsequently designed my own varietal aroma wheels to expand and simplify wine words.

Wine vocabulary is a personal thing. My “blackcurrant” might be your “blackberry” but the important thing is that we both know exactly what we mean when we use those terms. The use of wine descriptors assists the information-gathering process and ultimately speeds up our understanding of wine.

Ladies underwear

The late Auberon Waugh, wine columnist for The Spectator, once wrote that tasting notes needn’t make any sense but they should always be a good read. He liked to “camp it up a bit” which is why he famously described a wine as having an aroma that suggested “French railway stations and ladies underwear.”

Waugh was unsuccessfully prosecuted after a complaint by the Inner London Race Relations Council for describing a wine his brother-in-law gave him as smelling like “dead chrysanthemums on the grave of a stillborn Jamaican baby’s grave.”


Aroma of a scrabble chip swallowed and subsequently regurgitated by a dog. Photo: Via @DickKingSmith Twitter 


A vomited Scrabble chip

A student attending my wine course described a wine we tasted as having an aroma that perfectly matched that of a scrabble chip swallowed and subsequently regurgitated by her dog. That didn’t make any sense to anyone else in the class, but it is a very powerful and unique descriptor to the dog owner.

Mouldy sacks

When I was a lad I mowed my grandmother’s lawns once a fortnight. An organisation called Motherhood of Man would throw a rolled-up hessian sack onto the front lawn of houses in our neighbourhood in the hope that people would fill them with old clothes and leave the sack out for collection. My granny didn’t donate her cast-offs, so the sack became mouldy. To avoid getting it tangled in the mower I was forced to move it, mow the grass where it had been, and return the sack to the same spot. I hated the strong mouldy hessian smell.

Years later I discovered the identical smell in certain red wines – always Italian. One sniff is like stepping into a time machine. I become a 12-year-old grimly clutching the handle of a Masport mower. Aroma has the power to transport us through time and space.


Bob Campbell MW wine courses in Auckland and Wellington

By: Bob Campbell MW

If you fancy spending a day tasting and learning about wine, or perhaps spreading it over five weeks to join a few like-minded souls on consecutive evenings, here are a few dates for your diary.

Why attend a wine course?

It’s a great was to improve your wine judgement, increase the pleasure you get from wine and have a bit of fun at the same time. Can you think of anything better to do in the winter months?

Do I need to know much about wine?

My Wine Certificate Course has attracted people with a wide range of wine skills from “I’ve never tasted wine” to “I’m a seasoned wine professional.” I’d like to think that everyone at every level benefits from my tasting-based approach to understanding and enjoying wine.

How much does it cost?

NZD $249 (including GST)

Do I sit an exam?

No. You will receive a certificate of attendance.

For more information and to book, click here.

Wine Certificate Course schedule

Classes are held throughout the year but new course dates are only set as each existing course fills. The next available dates are shown below:


  • One-day course – Sunday 8th July
  • Five-week course – starts 6:30pm Tuesday, 26th June (two hours each evening)
  • Venue for both courses: Caro’s Wines, 14 Mackelvie Street, Grey Lynn

Wellington (One-day courses only)

  • Sunday 27th May
  • Sunday 26th August
  • Venue for both courses: Regional Wines, 15 Ellice Street, Basin Reserve.

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