Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Luce 2000, and the Benefits of Half-Bottles

Back in 2006, I picked up a handful of 375’s of Luce 2000 and have been drinking them at a rate of about one a year. What interested me most about the wine was not only its background (the Frescobaldi-Mondavi partnership) or its provenance and blend (Merlot and Sangiovese from Montalcino) or even its vintage (good but not generally considered to be great). Rather, it was the fact that these particular bottles that I bought were sold in so-called ‘splits,’ 375-ml halves that I knew would age more quickly than their standard-issue, 750-ml siblings, and light-years faster than their magnum big brothers.

Of course, because of the accelerated aging that half-bottles facilitate, they have, in general, been looked down upon. Consider this entry under ‘Bottle Sizes’ in the 3rd edition of ‘The Oxford Companion to Wine’:

“Half-bottles...are believed to hasten wine aging, partly because they contain more oxygen per centiliter of wine since the bottle neck and ullage are the same as for a full bottle. Most wine bottlers have viewed halves and other bottles smaller than the standard bottle as an unwelcome inconvenience...but there continues to be strong demand for half-bottles, particularly in restaurants.”

Now, I’m not about to argue against the many benefits of a magnum--or even, for that matter, a 750--that has had an extended, leisurely period of in-bottle maturation. But the fact that my half-bottles of Luce would evolve more quickly was exactly what drew me to them in the first place: Sometimes, you just want to drink a couple of glasses of mature wine without waiting forever for the juice to reach that stage, and without the pressure of having to finish an entire bottle in one go. (Older wine, after all, may not survive the long overnight slog through to the next day if you fail to finish it all in the first go-round.)

So that’s why I purchased the Luce in splits. And this past Sunday night, after a weekend spent shoveling out from the nearly two feet of snow we got here in Philly, I was in the mood for a treat. Which meant opening my second-to-last bottle of the 2000.

I’m glad I did, because it has finally reached the end of its life-cycle. Out of the bottle, it smelled of cherry and something almost salty, but these soon evolved into more clearly defined scents of dark cherry, leather, tobacco, balsamic, black bean sauce, and graham cracker. The palate, still powerful but devoid of most of its fruit at this point, coated the tongue with dusty tannins and flavors of olive, cocoa powder, black tea, cigar, and the merest intimation of cherry. There was still plenty of fresh acid there, and a surprisingly lively finish that flashed with mint and eucalyptus, but this wine, at this point and from a half-bottle, was all about its maturity and the expression of the final stage of its evolution.

Well, it was about that and something else, too: The benefits of a half-bottle. We finished it in a single sitting, without the stress of having to worry about its survival to the next day. Let the bottlers turn their noses up at 375’s--I’m a fan, and a believer in them, too.


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