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Wine's half-hearted approach

YOU like red wine and the love of your life likes white? No need to compromise for love this Valentine's Day.

Picking one of the many half-sized bottles of wine available can make everyone happy and even make pairing with food easier. It might even save you a bit, too.

Because maybe you want to pair white with the appetizer and red with the entree. Or, perhaps, you're ready to splash out on something serious like Chateau Latour, around US$600 a bottle, and you'd rather get the half-bottle for a mere US$300.

OK, maybe not. But you could.

A surprising number of big-name wines are available in half-bottles, including Opus One and Araujo Estate Wine, a wine so popular it is known as a "cult" wine.

Paul Mekis, wine director at Madera in Menlo Park, south of San Francisco, thinks half-bottles are "fantastic," and carries a wide selection on his wine list.

At the Judd's Hill winery in Napa, vintner Judd Finkelstein also is a fan. The winery is bringing out their "Founder's Art," a 2006 reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in half-bottles for the first time this year. "Founder's Art" is named in honor of Finkelstein's late father, Napa Valley pioneer Art Finkelstein. The label features a picture by Art Finkelstein, who true to his name, was a painter.

"It's been popular and it's a delicious wine and now it's available in half-bottles," says Finkelstein.

He also sees half-bottles as the answer for couples where one drinks wine and the other doesn't, a not uncommon scenario.

Polishing off a bottle solo isn't very appetizing, but a half-bottle, which contains about two glasses, fills the bill.

On the other hand, if both parties enjoy wine "and are feeling adventurous, they can open a couple of different half-bottles and have that adventure together," he says.

Also targeted to Cupid's big night, the La Crema winery in Sonoma County is selling special two-bottle packs - a 375ml Chardonnay paired with the same-size in Pinot Noir.

"It's a lovely way to bring together the red wine and white wine drinkers of the world," says La Crema winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas. Or, if you have a multicourse dinner with different wines, it is a way to bridge that gap, too.

Some critics do not think the half-bottle format has the longevity of the full-size bottle, but Grant-Douglas has noticed no deleterious effects.

For the restaurant scene, Valentine's Day means an evening of two-tops, the industry term for dining a deux.

"It's not the business-type people that are coming in. It's a romantic evening," says Mekis.

"They spend a little bit more time with each other, talking with each other, flirting with each other. We sell way more Champagne than anything, for sure."

Much of it in half-bottles.


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