Back when I was a sommelier at Fleur de Sel and then later at the Waverly Inn I liked to open wines from the list nightly to taste and share with the waitstaff. It was a way of educating as well as periodically checking in on how certain things on the list were tasting. With hundreds of selections certain wines got overlooked and needed to be re-evaluated once in awhile.
This practice led to the nightly occurrence of having a couple of super-high-end glass pours to hock. We always found guests ready and willing to share in the experience and consume a couple of glasses of these special wines without committing to the full bottle. Sometimes this led to impromptu wine pairings and more bottles being opened. Many of our guests came to know that they could request just a couple of glasses from a full bottle on the list and that the staff would find another table in the restaurant to consume the remainder (or we would just drink it ourselves if we had to!).
I was not alone in the practice of half bottle service. There are many other sommeliers in New York doing the same. Recently I dined at the restaurant Ciano, where John Slover is the Wine Director. Slover has been serving half bottles to guests for years and built an entire wine program around it at his last restaurant, Bar Henry. My guest and I were undecided. Red? White? The menu we had chosen definitely called for both and knowing the reputation of Chef Shea Gallante’s cooking at Ciano we wanted something special.
The bartender overhearing our dilemma explained that we could choose a half bottle of white and a half bottle of red from almost any selection on the list! After much deliberation we decided on the Knoll Smaragd ‘Schütt’ 2004 from my favorite Austrian Wachau producer, and an aged red Burgundy, a Savigny Les Beaunes ‘Lavières’ 2001 from Chandon de Briailles.
If you ever find yourself in a similar predicament, unable to decide on a wine, or just not wanting to commit to a full bottle, ask the wine staff if this is something would consider doing. Maybe you’ll get lucky like I did.