One size fits all

By Geoff Bolton
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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.

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Comments

  1. Brett Jones

    August 31, 2017

    Thank you, Geoff, for these interesting bottle size memories.
    In the seventies many wine suppliers offered a number of wines in both 70cl and 75cl bottle sizes, the former cheaper than the latter.
    Then, there was no legal obligation to state the bottle size on a restaurant wine list so a little bit of extra profit could made…
    So when the wine bottle size was legally required to be 75cl (spirits 70cl), with 50cl and 37.5cl smaller, 100cl, 150cl etc larger, the consumer was protected.
    Indeed, although supermarkets are covered by these rules for wines and spirits, other products are not, which is why, for example, confectionery can be, discreetly, reduced in size but not in price.
    The one wine exception is the 62cl Clavelin bottle only for Jura Vin Jaune.
    I enjoy this quote by André Simon: “A quarter bottle of champagne is fit only for an invalid too mean to share a half bottle with his nurse.”

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