Mini wine bottles are not even closely related to those tiny little liquor bottles that you see in some stores. We're not talking about those single-serving sized Captain Morgans that you can add to your Coke on your plane ride to Los Angeles…mini wine bottles are much different.
How Mini Wine Bottles are Different
Unlike those little 50ml single-serving sized bottles of your favorite liquor, mini wine bottles come in mainly one size: 375ml servings (or frequently called half bottles). This is not to say that there are not smaller sizes made-there are-but we'll get to that later. Half bottles of wine are growing in popularity and demand is going up for this format of wine bottles.
Half-bottles have their purpose. First, unlike hard liquor wine does not last more than a couple of days in the bottle after being opened. So if you went out, purchased a bottle of your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon and had a glass one night, a glass the next night and a glass the third night you would still have just shy of half a bottle left over that you can't really drink anymore (you can tell if a bottle has been opened for longer than two days-even if you gas it, take the air out, etc.) That's a waste of wine and a waste of your money. The perfect solution to this is to purchase half-bottles instead of full bottles. Not only are they cheaper (obviously) than full bottles, but you have the perfect amount to last a couple of days without worrying you will have too much left over.
Half Bottle Markets
One of the largest markets for half bottles at this point is the restaurant industry. It's just a perfect sized bottle to have with a nice dinner out for two people. Again, instead of purchasing a full 750ml bottle of wine (and at restaurants, that can be up to a 300% markup) and having some left over, a half bottle is the perfect way to go when having a meal when you just want a couple of glasses of wine. The other benefit to half bottles of wine at a restaurant is how it works well with multiple courses. For example, when I go out with a few friends and do a tasting menu progressive dinner at a nice restaurant, sometimes we pick out 2-3 half bottles to share so we can have a little bit of wine to pair with different courses. This works out very well.
As mentioned earlier, there are other sizes smaller than 375ml bottles. That is true, but you have to be careful. First of all, if you go smaller than half-bottles, the quality of the wine offered tends to go down. Most wineries do not make anything smaller than 375ml unless they are a huge company. So if you go to your grocery store and look down the chilled beverage aisle, if you see those little four or six-packs of 187ml (called "splits") chances are it's going to be Beringer White Zinfandel or Sutter Home Chardonnay. Not to talk badly about those wines, but for many people they like to drink wines with a little more quality and finesse. Let's put it this way-you won't find "splits" of Rombauer Chardonnay or Silver Oak Cabernet on the shelf of your wine merchant. However, sparkling wine and Champagne sometimes comes in split 187ml bottles. The market for that is a little better than just normal wine because for many people one or two glasses of bubbly is perfect.
There are downsides to mini bottles. First, just because you're buying half the amount of wine does not mean you're going to pay half the price. Wineries bottle much more 750ml bottles than 375ml. Because of this fact, it's cheaper to purchase the glass bottles in the larger size because of the sheer amount that they are buying. You still have to put corks in half-bottles of wine, so there is a cost there as well.In other words, yes you're getting half the wine, but not half the amount of work went into bottling that bottle.
Another downfall to half-bottles is that wine ages better in larger format bottles. Half-bottles tend to age quicker than other size formats do. If you're drinking newer vintage wines this is not an issue…but if you ever splurge and want to purchase a 10+ year old half-bottle of wine, ask the server/wine merchant about that bottle and how he thinks it has aged.
Lastly, unfortunately not all wineries produce half-bottles. Again, there is a cost associated with doing this size format,and for many smaller wineries they don't want to put the effort into making a small production of wine. More and more wineries, however, are doing half-bottles because of the restaurant industry, so hopefully we will see a shift of half-bottle availability.