In the world of wines there are various bottle shapes, all quite similar.
There are also various bottle sizes, mainly used for champagnes.
Nevertheless, the standard bottle of wine is 75 cl, everywhere in the world! Why is the wine bottle never a one-litre size? This could be a difficult question even for the most expert wine connoisseurs. As with many facts related to wine, the story behind its typical bottle size is intertwined with fascinating myths and popular legends.
In the past, wine bottles used to have different sizes and shapes. In 1975, a European directive on packaging (dir. Eu.75 / 106) legally defined the formats of containers for trading wine, including the 75cl bottle. The use of bottles other than those indicated in the directive requires a special EU authorization. The wine-producing countries around the world, in order to facilitate the wine trade and import-export practices, quickly implemented similar laws. And, among the list of bottle formats, the 75cl size was the most used and the most ‘comfortable’ for the end-user and became a standard. There are four different theories about why the 75 cl bottle has become the standard, universally recognized, bottle of wine. These are all fascinating theories but none of them is supported by real facts. So make up your own mind!
The first theory associates the bottle with the historical trade relations between Bordeaux, France, and England, and the need to easily convert the English gallon and the French litre. At that time, the English traded wine in wooden crates: each crate contained two gallons of wine and, considering that two gallons are about nine litres, they could make twelve bottles per crate.
This theory could also be linked to the use of the first bottle to preserve wine: the first bottle, called the ‘English Bottle’ or ‘Dark Green Onion Bottle’, dates back to 1662, when its patent was recognised by the English parliament, after its invention by the Englishman Sir Kenelm Digby.
At that time glass was already widely used for medicines and perfumes, but it was too fragile for the transport of wine. Digby studied some improvements in glass production techniques, until he had the right strength. The dark colour of the glass, resulting from the coal fumes produced in its manufacture, was considered an advantage in resisting the sun and the hot weather, and was even copied by French bottle makers.
A second theory associates the size of the bottle with the lung capacity of glassblowers. In the old days, all bottles were made from blown glass and, since it seems that 75 cl. is the maximum capacity of a puff, the blower could make a bottle with a single puff, saving time and therefore speeding up the production.
A third hypothesis is about the total weight of the full bottle of wine. The standard weight of a 75 cl bottle was 1kg, which is a round-figure that facilitated trade and transport. This hypothesis could make sense, but today it is no longer applicable because the various types of glass available on the market have different weights.
The last hypothesis associates the current size of the bottle with the capacity of six glasses of wine (traditional tavern glasses). This bottle made easier the life of the innkeeper, who could uncork the exact number of bottles he needed to cover the orders, avoiding waste. The use of the six glasses was also, in some areas, the maximum number of glasses allowed to a single customer, so the host could keep the situation in his inn always under control.
Another peculiarity of the wine bottle is the “bell” bottom, which is curved inwards.
Many people believe that this shape can help when you hold the bottle when pouring the wine, but I challenge you to try! It is not easy to pour the wine that way, especially if you don’t have big hands and long fingers.
The real reason is that the bottom has been designed both to contain the deposit of yeasts and to make it possible to use a thin glass, which can withstand the pressure of champagne gases. In this case too, there are legends and exceptions, the best known is linked to the famous Champagne Cristal and to Alexander II, Tsar of Russia in the mid-1800s.
The Tsar requested that the bottle of his favourite wine have a flat bottom and be transparent, fearing that, with the classic bottom and a darker glass colour, someone could insert a bomb or try to poison it.
Wine has many fascinating and arcane stories to tell and it never ceases to amaze!