Wine bottle size reflects changing lifestyles

Ever wondered how the bottles from which we pour the wine we drink are stored?

Probably not, because they have been the container of choice since some time in the 17th century when hotter, coal-fired furnaces made it possible to produce thicker, darker and stronger glass bottles than those used for serving wine filled from large clay pots (amphorae) in Roman times.

The advent of the cork stopper at roughly the same time also helped.

In fact it led in the early 1700s to a change in the shape of the bulbous (Chianti-style) bottles that were being used back then.

Because the cork-stoppered bottles had to be stored on their sides to keep the corks wet and prevent the wine from spoiling, the shape was changed to the cylindrical bottle still in use today.

However, it remained illegal to sell bottled wine in Britain until the mid-1800s because there was no standard size for bottles, which still depended on the volume of a single puff from the glassblower's lungs – generally from 600 to 800ml.

Instead, wine from the keg was measured and poured into bottles, often provided by the customer.

It was not until the late 1970s that the United States settled on 750ml for a standard-sized wine bottle, the European Union did the same and the world fell into line. And thus it has remained although other sized bottles – from the tiddlers used on airlines to magnums and beyond – are also produced.

The reason for my sudden interest in bottles is, of course, the decision by Mission Estate, in Hawke's Bay, to produce a range of wines in a 500ml bottle, the same size as the beaujolais bottle once known as "the pot".


Because our population is becoming older, increasingly urban and living in smaller family units, Mission chief executive Peter Holley says. We also tend to be active and care about our health, taking part in outdoor pursuits year round as well as picnics and barbecues in the summer. The standard 750ml wine bottle might not always suit our lifestyle.

Hence the new smaller model which holds the equivalent of four glasses and is the perfect size (according to Mr Holkey) for a couple who enjoy wine with a meal or are limiting their intake and could be tempted by the leftovers in the standard bottle.

Which could, I guess, be as good a reason as any to pay $9.99 for a 500ml bottle of Mission Estate 2011 Marlborough Sauvignon or $12.99 for a 2011 syrah, both smart wines, and the first to be released in the new range.

In the end though, it's what is in the bottle, not the size that really counts, and here are some other good (750ml) examples that have recently been released:

Main Divide 2009 Canterbury Pinot Noir ($24.95)
A supple, berry-fruited mouthfiller with earthy savoury characters from the Waipara Valley that glides effortlessly across the palate. Excellent value for money.

Main Divide 2011 Waipara Valley Pinot Gris ($19.95)
A rich and succulent pinot gris on the nose and an abundance of stonefruit and the obligatory spicy pears on the palate. Long and luscious, almost oily finish. Medium. A bargain.

Main Divide 2010 Waipara Valley Riesling ($19.95)
A second cousin to the gorgeous rieslings produced under the main Pegasus Bay label. A lovely honeyed, floral wine that is soft and fresh and flavourful. Medium.

The Southland Times