There are times when you want just half the bottle. Roger Scruton looks at what's on offer
An unfinished bottle of white wine can be recorked and returned to the fridge, and a bottle of red provides such a genial accompaniment to a meal that it seems mean-minded not to finish it. Nevertheless, there are occasions when a half-bottle is needed - for instance, when you want to make a point of showing how little you drank while she was out. There is no better accompaniment to a solitary sandwich than a half-bottle of Burgundy, and a half-bottle of Sauternes rounds off a dinner for two far better than any pudding.
However, now that everything is bottled at source, it is rare that a producer will think it worthwhile to deal in halves, and very few merchants are able to stock them. Without wishing to be dogmatic in the matter (wishing to keep my abundant dogmatism for more important things), I would say that every decent cellar should contain a case or two of halves, and that they should be of a quality to justify their somewhat precious appearance. There should be good, crisp white Burgundy, to whet the appetite for that special dinner for two. There should be full, fruity red Burgundy to confront those moments of solitary defeat. And there should be a solid and aromatic dessert wine to bring the end-of-dinner moment to its crisis.
I am pleased to say that Corney & Barrow has risen to the challenge. You should bear in mind that half-bottles age more quickly than whole bottles, so the three young wines on offer are in fact already fully mature. The premier cru Montagny from Olivier Leflaive has all the endearing qualities of that often undervalued region: a pronounced acidity, slight sweetness, and rounded fruit that lingers on the palate. As a long-standing lover of Montagny, I would give this one full marks.
Just as good in its own way is Leflaive's Chablis, which, as its name suggests, is a blend of grapes from both banks of the Serein River. This has a grassy aroma, a bracing attack, a flinty finish and the depth and complexity of a premier cru.
Concerning the Gamay grape, I am inclined to agree with Philip the Bold, who banned it from his dukedom of Burgundy. But this example from Moulin-à-Vent quite took me aback with its richness and perfume - the best Beaujolais I have tasted in a long time, and a perfect accompaniment to a solitary steak-and-kidney pie. It is not cheap, but worth the price: take a taste of this and you will never touch Beaujolais Nouveau again.
The Monbazillac is a fully mature dessert wine, which has lost none of its freshness during its six years in bottle. At 13 per cent, it is slightly weaker than most Sauternes, but its forward sweetness, velvety finish and aroma of roasted almonds make it a credible rival. It is a wine that will last and, at this price, is a real bargain.