The wine answer man is in

Columnist July 2, 2012

This week, our columnist answers reader e-mails and some questions from the Free Range food chat.

Dave McIntyre is a wine columnist for The Washington Post. He also blogs at dmwineline.com. View Archive

Robert Schwartz of Chevy Chase wanted to send two bottles of wine to a friend in New York who had hosted him on a business trip. But FedEx wouldn’t send alcohol unless he was a licensed distributor, and his local store, Chevy Chase Liquors in Friendship Heights, declined because Maryland’s new direct-shipping law does not allow retailers to ship wine.

“Of course, I could always lie about the contents of the package (which is actually the advice the FedEx employee gave me),” Schwartz wrote. “But being a responsible citizen and someone who has always abided by the law, I would prefer and will only ship the contents if done legally. Any advice you have for a place I can reach out to would be greatly appreciated, as I really would like to thank my friend with these two great bottles.”

American bargain bottles

I suggested two options: Contact a store in the District that ships to customers throughout the country, or contact a New York store that could deliver in-state. Schwartz went to Calvert Woodley in Northwest Washington.

When I followed up with Schwartz, he replied: “Not only did they have the exact bottles I had bought previously, but they had exceptional service, informed me they had shipped many times before and even were nice enough to allow me to send along a thank-you card that I had already picked out and wanted to include with the same two bottles of wine I had bought previously.”

His friend received the wines within a week, and Schwartz has the two bottles he purchased in Montgomery County to enjoy himself. A happy resolution all around.

Robert Kenney wonders why more wines aren’t available in half-bottles: the 375-milliliter format instead of the standard 750 milliliter.

“My wife doesn’t drink alcohol, so if I want to drink a glass or two of wine at home, there is always at least half of a regular-size bottle left,” he wrote in an e-mail.

He has a point. Half-bottles are available primarily in restaurants, where they make a nice choice for a couple to share over appetizers, or to choose two if they prefer different wines. But it can be tough to find half-bottles in retail stores, and most of those are dessert wines.

The main reason is that stores have trouble selling half-bottles, says Michael Sands of Calvert Woodley in Northwest Washington. “It comes down to not being able to devote a big chunk of real estate to a category that doesn’t sell real well,” he says, noting that CW has a bin full of half-bottles in addition to its dessert category. Also, he points out, “they aren’t always the best deal; for instance, we have a Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon on sale for $7.99, and the half-bottle is $5.99.” Calvert Woodley and other stores often “direct import” wines from Bordeaux and elsewhere, and those can be available in half bottles for reasonable prices.

“We used to have a lot of half-bottles, but they didn’t sell,” says Elliott Staren of Wide World of Wines on Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest. “Most people drink a full bottle, or drink the second half the next night.”

Farther up Wisconsin Avenue, Paul’s of Chevy Chase regularly carries about two dozen wines in the 375-milliliter format, says co-owner Steve Bellman. Most are domestic but often fairly high-end, such as pinot noir and chardonnay by Ramey or Patz & Hall or Worthy Cabernet Sauvignon, pricey labels that are easier to find on restaurant lists than in retail. That gives customers a chance to try these wines without committing to the price of a full bottle or a restaurant markup on the half-bottle.

“I think people don’t want to waste leftover wine, and this way they can get a little variety,” Bellman says. “People come in and buy three or four bottles, and if they like the wine they come back and buy it in a bigger bottle.

“Most wholesalers do in fact carry very few half-bottles; some none at all,” says Steven Schattman, a representative with distributor M Touton Selection. “We are an exception. I actually have a separate sales book specifically for half-bottles. The book comprises 19 pages and has approximately 200 different offerings. I probably sell more than anyone in our division, but, in all honesty, most of them go to restaurants, and better white-tablecloth restaurants, at that. I’ve found most retailers are very reluctant to carry them. The standard answer is, ‘They don’t sell.’ Several of the retailers I’ve managed to cajole into carrying some have been happy with their performance.”

American bargain bottles

McIntyre blogs at dmwineline.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dmwine.

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