Friday, June 26, 2009

Piccolo, Snipe, and Splits -- Oh My!

I thought it would be a simple thing to find a split of Veuve Clicquot yellow label champagne (Brut) on a Thursday afternoon. A split -- the bottle size that holds 350 mL as opposed to the regular bottle's 750 mL -- holds about two glasses, and is therefore just the right size of bottle which with to surprise the love of your life at the start of dinner, while still ensuring that he is able to drive you happily home at the end of the meal. With the regular size, you see, it ends up being one of those bowling-ball-for-the-wife-type gifts: "Here you are, honey, a whole bottle of champagne! But you're driving, so you only get one glass, and I'll have to drink the other three." No, a split was clearly the thing.

Nobody had one. I called boutique wine stores, grocery stores, boutique wine stores recommended by the sommeliers at the grocery stores -- nothing. I was verging on desperate when I remembered Mill Creek's Central Market and their killer wine selection.

They had one. I rejoiced. In fact, they not only had a split of brut, they had the next step up, the slightly sweeter demi-sec. So I bought that one.

And it got me thinking: where did all the half-bottles go? I used to see them everywhere, but now they only crop up every now and again and mostly during winery-located tastings. And where did they come from? Are they a product of the old economy's luxury and hedonism? Are people even buying their champagne in bulk now?

I went where I usually go when looking for basic history facts: Wikipedia. And -- holy crap! -- there is a disagreement. Either Wikipedia must be wrong, or everyone I've ever talked to about wine has let me persist in my ignorance about the definition of what a split is. According to the site, a split is .1875 mL, also known as a quarter bottle, a piccolo, a pony, or -- my favorite -- a snipe. Immediately I want to go to the snazziest restaurant in town and call out, "Garçon! A snipe of your finest champagne!" Then I will shoot my cuffs and polish my monocle on my cravat until it gleams.

But wait -- it gets better.

Once you get up to the double magnum (4 regular bottles) the list of wine bottle sizes reads like a list of begats from the Old Testament. A double magnum is also known as a Jeroboam, and then you move up: Rehoboam (6 bottles), Methuselah (8 bottles), Salmanazar (12 bottles). Balthazar, Nebachudnezzar, and Melchior (16, 20, and 24 bottles respectively). What -- says the kid who was raised Catholic -- no Gaspar? Poor unlucky third wise man. Thereafter the measures get weird, with Solomon (26 and 2/3 bottles), a sovereign (33 and 1/3 bottles, so presumably the sovereign in question is Jesus, the King of Kings, who died at 33, which makes me wonder if the sovereign is supposed to measure the amount of water Jesus turned to wine for his first miracle at the wedding at Cana -- see? raised Catholic). Last we have the primat (36 bottles) and the Melchizedek (40 bottles). Think about that: a bottle that holds 40 other bottles of wine.

You can buy a Melchizedek of Drappier champagne, but not, I think, on their website.

Don't even get me started on wine bottle colors and shapes -- that's a whole post in itself.

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