Wine glasses are seven times as big as they used to be

Like our houses and our cars and our donuts, everything is bigger these days.

TreeHugger often complains about how our houses have grown, how cars are so much bigger, how portion sizes in restaurants have increased in size, but many of these changes are relatively short-term, going back perhaps to the Second World War. Now a new study published in the BMJ looks at the size of wine glasses used in England, going right back to the 17th century, and find that glass sizes have increased sevenfold.

The researchers looked at glasses in museums and in the Royal Household, which evidently orders up new glassware for each new monarch. They note that changes are due to glass-making technology, price, societal wealth, and even taxes.

Two changes in the 20th century probably helped to increase glass sizes further. Wine glasses started to be tailored in shape and size for different wine varieties, both reflecting and contributing to a burgeoning market for wine appreciation, where larger glasses were considered important. From 1990 onwards the US market’s demand for larger wine glasses was met by an increase in the size of glasses manufactured in England, where a ready market was also found.

glass size increases© Wine glass size in England from 1700 to 2017: a measure of our time

The researchers checked out the correlation between glass size and consumption and note that "the amount of alcohol people drink, particularly wine, has increased sharply since the 1960s. Along with lower prices, increased availability, and marketing, larger wine glasses may have contributed to this rise through several potentially co-occurring mechanisms." A study author tells the Guardian:

“Our findings suggest that the capacity of wine glasses in England increased significantly over the past 300 years,” added Zupan. “Since the 1990s, the size has increased rapidly. Whether this led to the rise in wine consumption in England, we can’t say for certain, but a wine glass 300 years ago would only have held about a half of today’s small measure.”

So like everything else, according to this study, bigger glasses lead to bigger drinks. Of course, what people drink has changed too. People used to drink more port and sherry; The Guardian notes:

In the 1930s and 1940s fortified wines were popular but wine took off when package holidays introduced Britons to exotic European tastes and law changes allowed UK supermarkets to compete in the sector. Alcohol strength has also gone up significantly due to the public’s taste for riper, softer wines that are ready to drink. Wines like Bordeaux and Rioja that used to be about 12.5%-13% abv are often now 14% or more.

wine glassesLloyd Alter/ My wife's wine glass vs my wine glass (with cranberry juice, it's early) /CC BY 2.0

But it is not necessarily true that people drink more when they have bigger glasses. In our house, when we set the table, I always drink from a small glass that is actually sold for port; my wife drinks from a larger one. We have measured and I fill my glass to about 3/4 full while hers is about 1/4 full, and we both get roughly the same amount of wine.

game of thrones drinkingFill that glass to the top!/Video screen capture

And as we have seen on Game of Thrones, some people manage quite well at drinking lots, even with tiny glasses. So I would make the TreeHugger case that smaller glasses are the better choice; they use less material, take up less space, probably are harder to break and you might even drink a little less wine. More in the Guardian; found on Core77.

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