In his latest Thirsty Thursday blog our wine buyer Ed Betts explains why boxed wines are making a comeback, corks aren’t used as much, and the reasons we have 75cl wine bottles.
Ever wondered why wine comes in a 75cl bottle? Most wine comes in the standard size, and after centuries of tradition we’ve kind of ended up accepting that this is how it is.
There are differing opinions as to why wine bottles are that size, but the most likely story is that it stems from 19th century when the British were the biggest clients for French wine.
We didn’t use the French metric system, and used to order wine in imperial gallons. Barrels were used to transport wine at that time, so to make things easier to convert, the wine makers of Bordeaux decided that a barrel would hold 225 litres – equivalent to 50 gallons – which works out at 300 75cl bottles or 50 cases of six bottles.
It’s also an easy conversion to minimise waste, as well as being a good size for handling and storing.
Up until recently all wine came with a cork closure, but now it’s more common to see a screw cap on our store shelves. You shouldn’t worry if a wine has a screw cap rather than cork – it’s not a sign of poor quality wine.
The move to screw cap was largely because cork can contain TCA – a chemical compound that can cause ‘cork taint’, which is when the wine loses its freshness and tastes musty and unpleasant. It makes sense to me – no reduction in quality and a more convenient way of opening a bottle without the need of a specialist tool.
So, could we see a similar revolution in the 75cl bottle itself? The simple answer is no, as after centuries of development it’s the most efficient size, perfect for premium wines, and unlikely to change.
But there are alternatives to the standard bottle – in fact we have more choice than ever before. The largest bottle of wine is the Nebuchadnezzar, which holds 15 litres of wine or the equivalent of 20 bottles. Impressive, but imagine trying to pour that!
For larger sizes, glass bottles become impractical and the bag in box becomes a much simpler solution.
You might have seen articles recently about boxed wine making a comeback. Our sales are up from last year, and I’m expecting it to continue to grow. As long as the wine inside is good quality, I think boxed wine will remain a popular choice – whatever the wine snobs say!
Boxed wines fell out of favour in the 80s when they were being used to pack cheap bulk wines, but thankfully that’s not the case anymore. They aren’t used for premium wines as the packaging has a limited lifespan (the wine may deteriorate after eight-to-nine months) so there is a ceiling to the wines that are used. But if you’re looking for everyday wines to enjoy then they are a great alternative.
They have some great upsides – the shape is more a convenient cuboid allowing easier storage than the equivalent number of bottles (particularly if in the fridge), once opened they last longer (the tap closure prevents any oxidation so they stay fresh for up to six weeks), and they represent great value versus the equivalent bottles as you’re only paying for one set of packaging.
The size of the boxes varies, but they’re typically 2.25 litres (equivalent of three bottles) or 3L (equivalent of four bottles). Our best sellers at the moment are Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. My blog about Chardonnay’s comeback caused quite a debate on Facebook last week – read it here.
They aren’t for aging wines in, but for a practical solution for parties, festivals or social gatherings they can be a great alternative to bottles.
I bought some recently for a family camping trip. Space was tight, so it was a great solution. I went for the Malbec, a smooth medium bodied red and full of dark berry fruit characters. It was in the two for £23 offer so it was great value, and everyone who tried it was surprised at the quality.
Some of my other favourites are the rosé blush – a crisp rose with light, red berry characters and refreshingly dry, the Sauvignon Blanc, or Sangria – okay I know it’s a wine based drink but it’s great for a fiesta!
Ed's on a mission to take the mystery out of choosing new wines to try. Find out more about his Sommeasier's Guide to Wine.