Opening a bottle of wine is a part of Christmas celebrations in many households but how are we supposed to drink responsibly if you can fit almost an entire bottle in a single wine glass nowadays? Wine glasses have been getting bigger each year, they are over 6x larger than they used to be in the 1700s! Does the size of the glass affect how much we tend to drink? And why have the glasses been getting larger? Let’s look at the science.

In a 2017 study, Theresa Marteau, a professor of behaviour and health at the University of Cambridge, and her colleagues decided to investigate the state of wine glasses. They found that wine glasses have increased in size from an average capacity of 66ml in the early 1700s to 449ml in 2017, rising most sharply in the last two decades in line with wine consumption.

The results are in

A typical wine glass 300 years ago would only have held about a half of today’s smallest common measure of 125 ml. Why is that?

  • The first notable glass size increase was observed in the 19th century because glass production began to shift from mouth blowing techniques to more automated processes.
  • In the 20th century wine glasses started to be tailored in shape and size for different wine varieties reflecting a growing market for wine appreciation.
  • In the last two decades the size of a wine glass increased dramatically along with wine consumption. This might be because drinking from a larger glass increases consumption and therefore boosts sales.
Researchers from the University of California looked at expert reviews for more than 74,000 wines in their 2016 study and concluded that organic wines taste better. They scored an average of 4.1 points higher than their non-organic counterparts, on a scale of 1 to 100.

Larger glasses increase the pleasure from drinking

The same authors examined the impact of larger wine glasses on sales in a study from 2016. They found that serving wine (175 ml) in larger wine glasses increased sales by almost 10% when compared with smaller glasses. Larger glasses seem to increase the pleasure from drinking wine which may increase the desire to drink more. Bar and restaurant owners then prefer serving wine in larger glasses which can incentivise the production of bigger and bigger wine glasses. And it seems to be working. Wine consumption increased almost 4x between 1960 and 1980, and then almost 2x again between 1980 and 2004.

How to solve the “big wine glasses” problem?

You can’t really influence what glasses they use in bars and restaurants, and you know they will use the biggest ones available. Thankfully, the majority of alcohol overall is consumed at home so, go shopping and replace those huge glasses you have with something more reasonable and you might just start drinking less! Also, this decision will probably be much easier to make in early January than in late December, right?

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