Most wine importers and hotels continue to ignore the importance of the bottle size which is important especially if only one person wants to drink. Vintage is less important for the fine wines in India as the premium wines are expensive and not within the reach of most. It matters more for cheap and inexpensive wines which are often well past their prime when sold in hotels, retail or the friendly bootlegger.
Interestingly, Indian producers got wise to the idea of introducing smaller bottles (375mL half-bottles) many years ago with producers like Sula and Vinsura introducing them in the market. Importers are still reluctant to import half bottles, complaining that the hoteliers are not prepared to pay the slightly higher costs per liter.
A friend of mine who drinks red wine every day with his dinner is tired of opening a 750 mL bottle and letting it go waste despite several techniques available to store an opened bottle, including the use of a vacuum pump. I even suggested a tried –and- tested jugadh-of pouring the estimated drinking portion in a glass and corking/screw-capping it immediately and keeping in the fridge. (I recommend keeping in the freezer if it is at least a third empty and letting it thaw out before finishing it up within the next 3-4 days).
There are not too many options available in the imported retails section so far. I recently saw a Valpolicella Classico from Ammirato in a half bottle. Good choice-except it is not yet available freely in Gurgaon where it is registered along with several of their new Italian labels. Santa Emma is being imported from Chile but I have not seen a half bottle on the retail shelves. So my advice to my friend is to buy any of these quaffable wines and finish off in a day or two.
He went recently to a popular up-market shop and picked up several quarter bottles of an entry level Australian Lindemans bin Chardonnay for Rs.200 a bottle- not a bad price, one would say. But when I asked him the vintage, he told me it was 2004 or 2005- he did not remember. I told him it was not a smart bargain even though he may seemingly have had a good deal. Without the bottle, I could offer him only a logical explanation.
What he had bought was perhaps a187 mL bottle- in trade commonly known as 187 or the airline economy class bottle. Always in screwcap, it is designed for quick dispensing by the air hostess or steward. Logically, this is around the cheapest quaff they can procure-you would never see such bottles in the Business Class. Since they are sold to airlines only, the only way they can find way into the market is through smuggling out of the aircraft.
Indeed, a check with a few pilots and those in the airline industry confirmed my suspicion-these are regularly stolen from the airlines. It is not worthwhile for the staff to slip a couple of bottles in their purses or handbags. But they are most difficult items to control the inventory of and thus easy to maneuver out of the system. The sources confirmed that there is apparently a big racket where the staff of Air India and a few othe airlines are involved through the flight catering service providers being in cahoots with the airline staff. So what one buys is not bootlegged but stolen wine.
Any wine in such small bottles would almost always be a cheap/entry level wine to be consumed within months of production. The only explanation for selling a 2004 or 2005 would be that the wine was lying unsold somewhere, to be palmed off to an unsuspecting customer willing to shoot in the dark due to high taxes making wines unapproachable.
Even the half bottles are used only for lower ended, young wines. Aging is better when the maximum surface of wine is in contact with the bottle. It will mature better in a full bottle and better still in a magnum (1.5 L double bottle) which is always more expensive than the equivalent two bottles.
So the Size of the bottle does matter-so does the vintage which is important for smaller bottles to the extent that older the vintage, more are the chances that the wine has gone past the prime and though it will not kill you, you are likely to drink something that is not at its best and may snatch you away from the excitement about wines in future..