I first worked in a wine shop in 1970, helping out at Christmas time. As an impressionable young man, I found it fascinating enough to inspire a life-long interest. One of the things I remember was the different bottle sizes, something that would be inconceivable in today’s standardised world. I was reminded of this when I picked up Alex Lichine’s Encyclopaedia of Wines and Spirits, 1967 vintage, sorry, edition. I thought the appendix on bottle sizes it would interest our reader, as it did me.
I list all the sizes designated as bottles below.
German 70cl; Alsace 72cl; Anjou 75cl; Beaujolais 75cl; Bordeaux 75cl; Burgundy 75cl; USA 75.72cl; Port 75.75cl; Sherry 75.75cl; Champagne 80cl.
The last three were also called Quarts which meant that, for Champagne, a half bottle was 40cl, also called a Pint (Two pints making one quart, remember?). Didn’t Pol Roger make a pint of Champagne – and are thinking of doing so again.
Why was 75cl (mostly French regions) decided upon as the standard? How did all the 0.072 and 0.075 sizes come about (local glass blowing, perhaps?). Why was the three-quarter litre size adopted instead of the half and full litre?
Other interesting names were a Pot of Beaujolais (50cl), a Fillette of Bordeaux (37.5 cl), a Marie-Jeanne of Bordeaux (250cl), a Split of Champagne (20cl), the wonderfully named Tappit Hen of Port (227 cl). The US called their half bottles Tenths and their bottles Fifths.
Dear reader – if you’re still awake – think how the supermarkets would love this array of sizes on their shelves.
More gems from the old book later.
[Richard: when I started drinking wine in Nottingham Rioja could be bought in 210cl bottles. And one peculiarity still exists – Chateau-Chalon (and certain other wines from the Jura) which uses 62cl bottles called clavelins. Not, as you might uncharitably assume, to rip off the consumer but because, apparently, that is what 100cl of wine evaporates to in 6 and a quarter years, which is the minimum ageing period for the appellation. Sold by the Wine Society, but I’ve never tried it. However the grape used – savignan – is also used to make vin jaune, also sold in 62cl bottles, a rather sherry like wine which I recall we tasted once, without blogging.
I think the standardisation was due to what would then be Common Market rules. The large Spanish size vanished after they joined. Be interesting to learn how Chateau-Chalon escaped. See Annexe XVII of this document giving legal recognition to odd bottles shapes and sizes.]