Why is a Wine bottle 75cl?

With years of tradition behind it, wine isn’t a product that changes fast.  Sure, certain grape varieties come and go as trends and tastes change, but when it comes to serving wine, the glass bottle has been the method of choice for centuries.

Other formats quietly exist, and bag-in-box wine recently made a modest comeback helped by the fact that the quality has come on leaps and bounds since the dinner parties of the 1980’s.  Last summer’s trend of wine served in a can was generally met with more disdain.

Canned wine does have its benefits.  They’re light and portable which is perfect for al fresco drinking or when you’re on the move, plus you get the benefit of keeping the wine airtight and fresh, just like in a bottle.  You can get smaller measures than when you open a standard bottle (and perhaps drinking more than you should as “it’s a shame to waste it”), but something about wine from a can just feels…wrong.

We happily switch from drinking beer in a bottle to beer in a can, but with wine it doesn’t currently feel 100% natural to do so.

But then, you may ask, what makes the 75cl glass bottle so right?  Using glass makes absolute sense being inert, sturdy, and able to be mass produced, but why is 75cl the accepted size?  There’s lots of fanciful myths and, whilst it would be romantic to believe that 75cl was the maximum lung capacity of a glass-blowers breath or was scientifically calculated as the perfect amount of wine for 2 people to share, the truth is much more mathematical.

Historically, barrels of wine would be shipped over from France and bottled here to aid the logistics of transporting heavy and breakable glass by boat, but producers eventually started bottling at the château to stop shippers adulterating their wine in any way. 

These barrels had the capacity to store 225 litres which, when split down to a nice even 300 bottles, gave them their 75cl size.  Interestingly, wine merchants and producers will tell you that the 75cl size isn’t actually the best for showing off the liquid inside.  Less likely to suffer temperature variations, the greater volume of wine in larger bottle formats such as the Magnum and Jeroboam still only comes in to contact with the same amount of air as found in a standard bottle, thereby slowing the ageing process.

These larger bottles are visually impressive and create a real sense of occasion, their powerful biblical names such as Balthazar, Salmanazar and Nebuchadnezzar, only serving to make them even grander.  In reality though they are heavy and awkward to pour, and definitely not for opening on weeknights when you only fancy one glass.

So, it seems that the 75cl bottle is here to stay.  That’s probably best as it’s hard to imagine saying to someone “Fancy coming over tonight and sharing a bag of wine?”.

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