A half-bottle for dinner is just about right for me. Sure, sometimes I may yearn for just a half-glass more, but more often than not memories of what that's meant the next day encourage restraint.
I can enjoy a half-bottle (almost always meaning half of a full bottle) and feel fine the next day - sometimes. I've learned it's not just the amount of wine you drink, but which wine you drink. Or perhaps I should say where the wine comes from. Drink a half-bottle of Beaujolais and I feel great in the morning, when it's a half-bottle of Napa Cabernet not so much.
More and more the wines I enjoy the most are gentle on the soul - and the body. That means wines of naturally moderate alcohol levels. Wines that push seriously north of 14% are different beasts than those 13.5% and down. They not only taste different, they do different things to your body. If you like to enjoy wine as a daily beverage with your dinner the difference is significant. A half-bottle of wine at 13% is a whole different thing than one at 15% - and don't kid yourselves with what's printed on a label. A Napa Cab labeled 14.5% is more often than not over 15% and it's not unusual to find them actually approaching 16%. Remember Corison is the exception, not the rule.
When you give up 1% in alcohol you don't need to give up a percentage of flavor. Interestingly enough you also tend to spend more than 1% less money. There is a glorious range of wines to discover with moderate alcohol levels. France is full of them as are areas of Italy, Oregon, New Zealand and Germany. Even sunny California has its examples (try Dirty & Rowdy or Two Shepherds for examples). In general you'll find cool wines like these come from cool places.
Over the years my own cooking seems to have become lighter and lighter. Large pieces of meat have gradually disappeared as fish, chicken, pasta, grains and salads are on our dinner table. There was no plan it just evolved over the years as my tastes slowly changed. As my cooking changed my wine selections became lighter and lighter to match the meals I prepared. Eventually the big wines and bigger steaks I liked in my younger days slowly lost their appeal. Heaviness and deliciousness no longer intersected.
Life is pretty dull without a splurge once in awhile and great, powerful wines are indeed very splurge-worthy. Great meals, special dinners at home and just rewarding yourself are occasions when alcohol levels are something to be ignored. All that's important is how much you love that wine. There's nothing inherently evil about higher alcohol wines. However, daily enjoyment with simpler meals calls for lower octane wines. There is nothing in the world I love more than a great Barolo or Barbaresco and they easily hit the 14.5% range, but as much as I love them they are not everyday wines (although if I win the lottery I may change my mind). Fortunately for me it’s easy for me to gravitate towards lower alcohol wines as I learned to love wine in the late 70s and early 80s and wines over 14% were the exception to the rule - even in California. I understand it may be harder for younger wine drinkers whose palates have been deadened by years of high alcohol wines combined with the residual sugar that tends to go along for the ride. However, like so many things in life, once your palate is awakened to the elegant, refined and restrained flavors of these lower alcohol wines you'll find that many wines you used to love clumsy and one dimensional.
Acidity and freshness are hallmarks of most wines with naturally moderate alcohol. I can hardly think of two things I treasure more in wine. As feeling fresh in the morning is something I also treasure it seems I've lucked out.
I think I'll have another glass.