Half Bottles for High Altitudes
by Lisa Elbert, Tastemaker in Residence
The air is thin. Your ears pop, and your chest heaves. You’re on a mountain top, and the first order of business is dinner: fuel for tomorrow’s course down the slopes.
Restaurants in Aspen are accustomed to altitude-affected diners, and Sommelier Greg Van Wagner of Jimmy’s accommodates his oxygen-deprived guests with a half bottle program. Printed on the 650-bottle list, Wagner offers any bottle as a half, for only half the price. Every single one, down to the 1982 Château Mouton Rothschild. “It makes sense in this town,” says Wagner. “We’re at 8,000 feet, and when guests fly up from sea level, they may want to pull back a little but still enjoy great wine.”
He pours his guests the first half of the bottle, and what happens with the rest depends on the season, the guest, and the wine. For the most part, servers hand-sell the remaining juice by the glass. “It’s also not uncommon to have somebody get a half and decide they want the rest,” says Wagner. “I thought I would end up with a lot of waste, but it’s in pretty good equilibrium. Of course, sometimes Jimmy [Yeager] and I drink the other half after service.” With a Coravin in place only for the off-season and certain bottles—that Mouton, perhaps—Wagner has seen an increase in revenue and total wine sold since he started the program nearly three years ago. Wagner has a handful of actual half bottles, but because they age differently than 750 milliliter-bottles, they’re not a true substitute.
He thinks a half bottle system could work on flat land, as well. Consider your guests: a two-top ordering vastly different dishes or that simply can’t agree on red or white, a connoisseur interested in sampling across a vertical, or a party of one. Think about it this way, if someone orders a 1985 Napa Cab by the half—at $180—that’s a win for your guest, for your business, and, if all else fails, an epic way to wind down after service.