Wine glasses seven times larger than 300 years ago

14 December 2017



Wine glasses have ballooned in size and are now over 7 times larger than they were in the 1700s, researchers in the UK have discovered.

Toasting their success in publishing their study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) this week, the team, who are based at Cambridge University, suggest that their findings may go some way to explaining why levels of wine consumption have increased so dramatically in recent years and why alcohol is in the top 5 leading causes of premature death and disability in first world countries.

Zorana Zupan and her colleagues obtained the vital statistics for 411 wine glasses dating from 1700 to the present day. They cite sources for their data as the University of Oxford, who supplied data for the oldest drinking vessels, the Royal Household, where new glassware was fashioned for each monarch from 1808 to 1947, catalogues from Dartington Crystal and the John Lewis department store, and even the online auction site eBay.

The results show that, in the 1700s, wine glasses were diminutive by today's standards with an average capacity of just 66ml. By 2017 though, the size had bloated to a volume of nearly 500ml, sufficient to hold almost two thirds of a bottle of wine!

Plotting the trajectory of wine glass growth over time shows that things actually changed very little until the 1960s. There was a modest upscale following the abolition in 1845 of an 18th Century glass tax but, otherwise, until the 1960s, wine was chiefly the preserve, the team counsel, of rich "Scrooges". Poorer "Bob Cratchits" made do with beer and spirits, they say.

But by the 1960s wine eventually did catch on with the Bob Cratchits, and between the 1960s and the 1980s wine glass sizes shot up fourfold before doubling again between 1980 and 2004.

The driver for this burgeoning glass growth, the team speculate, is that retailers can sell more, and consumers tend to drink more when portions are served in larger glasses. The team cite their own experiments, conducted in a pub in Cambridge, where they recorded a 10% increases in sales when the same volumes of wine were dispensed in large glasses compared with smaller ones. 

Just as a 20th Century trend for larger dinner plates is tending to make people eat more and could be contributing to worldwide obesity, consumers, the team suspect, might judge that their serving of wine looks smaller in a larger glass and be tempted to drink more...


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