Wine Glasses have Ballooned Over the Last Three Hundred Years

What is the size of an average wine glass?

The shape of the glass varies depending on whether it’s a flute of champagne or a glass of red, and here in America, there are no legal requirements for the amount of wine poured. Earlier this month, however, the British Medical Journal (the BMJ) published the findings of a recent study, and found that the average size of a wine glass has grown seven-fold in the last 300 hundred years.

Using measurements from 411 glasses sourced from the University of Oxford, Dartington Crystal, the department store John Lewis, and even eBay, the BMJ measured the total capacity of glasses used for unfortified wine (excluding sparkling) available or sold in England from 1700 to 2017. What they found was that the average glass increased from 66ml (about 2fl oz) to 417ml (about 14fl oz), with a marked increase since the 1990s.

Now, the BMJ does admit that they don’t entirely know how representative of certain periods the range of glasses is, nor does it necessarily represent the popularity of the glasses. One point they make is that the smaller glasses might have had an endurance advantage over larger ones, leaving only the small vessels intact for study. That said, by including such sources as archived Dartington catalogs, they feel confident that they achieved a fairly accurate idea of the major trends throughout the centuries.

As far as explanations go, the BMJ posits that it was probably due to several factors, such as price, technology, societal wealth and wine appreciation. Certain taxes led to smaller amounts of wine, which led to smaller glasses, but increased automation in the Industrial Revolution meant bigger glasses could be made. In the 20th century, glasses started to be tailored in shape and size for different wine varieties, then, in the 90’s, the US market demanded larger wine glasses, and that demand was met by English companies. Much like any product that has lasted three hundred years, one can trace the wine glass’s cultural history and discover many different contributors.

The BMJ ends their report by reflecting on the potential connection between glass size and consumption. While they admit that they can not make a causal connection between size of glass and amount consumed, it does seem to be fertile ground for future investigation. There have already been studies that have shown that reducing the size of the plate reduces the size of one’s appetite, so perhaps glass size can too quietly guide wine drinkers towards or away from overindulging.

Regardless of what it means at the bars, it’s fascinating to see the evolution of something so mundane as a wine glass. While the charts and graphs may be a bit dry, they tell a story our relationship to wine and how we consume it. So, no matter what you drink, the amount you pour, or the glass you use, cheers from us here at Skolnik!

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