For The Love of Port
Why not offer 500 ml bottles of Vintage Port?
© 2005 by Roy Hersh

Size does matter. For years I have felt like the lone ranger when it comes to speaking out against one of the traditional sizes of Vintage Port bottles. In reality, the vast majority of the Port drinking public accepts the status quo of 375 ml (half bottles), 750 ml (standard) and 1.5 liter (magnums). My contrarian view supports the silent minority of Port enthusiasts, who find that 375 ml bottles offer too little to be desired.

Why not get rid of the 375 ml size bottles of Port, once and for all? Those who tend towards a propensity for puny Port bottles, harken back to the tired rationale that this is the perfect size for one or two to enjoy. Such gibberish rankles my spirit, but in fairness, I sure would like to know why there is such love for the "half bottle" of Port.

We have all been there: A post-prandial Port is brought forth in a decanter to toast the end of a wonderful evening. Four people are sharing a half bottle after a fabulous dinner that featured two bottles of great wine, along with the multiple courses of delectable food. Each individual receives a perfect three-ounce pour of Port. Ahhhh, all seems right with the world. As the Vintage Port blossoms in the glass and every sip seems better than the last ... WAIT ... oh no, the glass is empty and there is no more to pour.

Believe it or not, the guests are not sitting there thinking, "That was a brilliant Port, time to go home now." Absolutely not! They are sitting quietly and looking at the empty decanter with sadness, if not reserved disdain, as they dare not offend their hosts. Instead they peacefully ponder what they'd be willing to forfeit for just one or two more sips of that nectar.

It is at this point in the evening where time stands still (think: Bill Murray in Groundhog Day). Dinner has just ended and in walks Bill with a decanter shimmering with the opaque ruby-centered contents of that same sublime Vintage Port, this time from a 500 ml bottle. The host deftly pours three ounces into each glass. Conversation picks up again as the Port gains weight and all four of them seem delighted to just swirl, sniff and sip. As these final sips are swallowed, the host proudly passes the decanter to his left and each person is able to enjoy another ounce and a half. Don't worry, this won't tip the scales of sobriety in favor of the local pokey, as the "375'ers" would have you believe.

How often in your Port drinking experience have you reached the end of the 375 all too soon? Me too! Of course I understand that it can be a waste for a couple to open up a 750 ml bottle of Vintage Port as it will not be consumed before it goes bad (Not in my house!). So without any alternative, the "split" is the only option other than trying to preserve a few ounces of the leftover 750. Herein lies the absolute brilliance of the 500 ml bottle. Hungary, I salute your foresight when you put all Tokaji into 500 ml bottles: a stroke of pure genius.

On Christmas Eve 2004, Dr. Dan Teng of Spokane, Washington, conducted an unscientific poll of dessert wine lovers on Mark Squires' online Bulletin Board on the website. When asked the question, "I would buy 500 ml bottles" or "I would not buy 500 ml bottles," 98 percent of respondents approved the new bottle size. What Dr. Teng didn't ask was whether one would buy 500 ml bottles instead of those 375 ml excuses for bottles.

In the past decade, a few enlightened marketers have done quite well with offerings of 500 ml bottles of Port. The Symington's have enjoyed success with Warre's Otima: Both the 10- and 20-year-old Tawny Ports are in shapely, well-appointed 500 ml bottles. Quinta do Noval also got into the act, breaking with tradition by introducing Raven, a square-bottled half-liter of Premium Ruby Port. So we now have two Port houses breaking with tradition, as well as others like Porto Solene and Quinta do Portal that employ avant-garde Port packaging. This is marketing progress! I say go all the way and put Vintage Port in a 500 ml bottle. I promise to promote the very first Port product to take the leap of faith and give it a try!

Roy Hersh

October 2005

Words About Port index page