The academics over at the University of Cambridge have been busy contemplating some of life’s serious questions. Most recently, they determined that we are drinking out of bigger wine glasses these days; in fact, the size of the typical glass chalice has doubled in the last three decades according to the new study helmed by Dr. Theresa M Marteau and published in The BMJ.
Contrary to our ren faire fantasies, massive goblets were the not the preferred vessels in olden times. “Our findings suggest that the capacity of wine glasses in England increased significantly over the past 300 years,” said Dr. Zorana Zupan, first author of the study. “For the most part, this was gradual, but 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.
Specifically, the report states that wine glass capacity increased from 66 mL in the 1700s to 417 mL in the 2000s. In 2016-17, the mean wine glass size was 449 mL. Clearly, the growth in capacity has been more drastic over the past few decades.
Acquiring this key scientific knowledge was no easy feat. First off, a start date was needed. That decision was relatively easy as wineglasses are a relatively new invention. “Wine glasses became a common receptacle from which wine was drunk around 1700,” said first author Dr Zorana Zupan. “This followed the development of lead crystal glassware by George Ravenscroft in the late 17th century, which led to the manufacture of less fragile and larger glasses than was previously possible.”
The researchers crunched the numbers for 411 glasses acquired from five different wildly varying sources:
- Department of Western Art at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, the University of Oxford (years 1700-1800; n=43)
- The Royal Household, where a new set of glassware is commissioned for each monarch (years 1808-1947; n=24)
- eBay, the auction and retail website (years 1840-2016; n=65)
- Catalogues from Dartington Crystal, an English glassware manufacturer (years 1967-2017; n=180)
- John Lewis, the department store with the largest online selection of wine glasses (year 2016; n=99).
The team also tried to offer some explanations for the increase in size. The most obvious correlation they found were increases in wine consumption. “Wine consumption increased almost four-fold between 1960 and 1980, and almost doubled again between 1980 and 2004,” states the paper. Liberalized sensibilities and laws along with new distribution outlets such as supermarkets are several of the theoretical causes provided.
Increased wine consumption also led to increased wine knowledge. An educated customer base began to demand specialized glassware paired to regions and varietals. In time, oversized Bordeaux style glasses became the norm even for those who don’t know Riedel from a sippy-cup.
The research was conducted Marteau and Zupan along with Alexandra Evans, MPhil student and Dominique-Laurent Couturier, senior statistician. The research only tackled traditional footed, stemware style glasses, not the Riedel O Series style and their knockoffs.