Jamie Goode: The 750ml wine bottle and the high cost of trial

By , 4 June 2024



One of the things with wine is that trying something new is often an expensive venture – especially if you are eating out. For consumers in a supermarket one of the most expensive things they put in their trolleys is a bottle of wine. And in restaurants, if there are two of you eating and you don’t want to go by the glass, then your opportunity for the evening is one, or perhaps two bottles, so you want to get it right because these will probably cost more than your food.

It’s different with beer. Beer is generally sold in smaller-sized portions and is usually a cheaper liquid to boot. The best beers in the world aren’t vastly more expensive than the cheapest, and this makes experimenting with beer much more affordable. The lower cost of beer is partly because beer can be made year-round, so there’s much more efficient use of the equipment needed in its production. And also, because the raw materials cost less, so it’s possible to pour a bad batch down the drain and start again without too much drama. But it also has to do with the pack size. As well as being sold on tap, beer is sold in bottles and cans of varying sizes, but usually smaller than the standard 750ml bottle size used most frequently for wine.

It’s so interesting that a single size pack is almost universally used for wine. I don’t know how this came to pass, but it’s an enduring facet of this drink that many drinkers are loath to depart from. While many people have been pushing for alternative packaging and smaller serves for wine for a long time, the industry seems quite resistant. It’s interesting to speculate on why this might be.

One issue may be technical challenges. Wine is hard to package: it oxidises easily and so any container used for wine must be an effective oxygen barrier. Glass with a good cork or a screwcap with a suitable liner is ideal. Alternatives are usually less ideal. With bag in box, there’s a relatively short shelf life, and the same applies to any PET plastic containers. With cans, the issue is that if the wine contains any sulfur dioxide, and the aluminium of the can comes into contact with the wine because of a failure of the lining, then hydrogen sulfide is produced, which is a bad thing.

During the pandemic lots of companies sprang up offering small serves of wine in small glass bottles or even pouches. Their business model was to take wines and then, under protective gas, split bottles into several tasting samples. The risk of the wine being damaged by this process was significant, but many of these small samples survived well as long as they were drunk soon after receipt. This sort of sampling has faded from view of late, but it worked well at the time.

It might, however, not be the industry that’s resistant. If so many people have tried and failed to get traction for alternatives to wine bottle, maybe the issue is on the pull side rather than the push. What if it’s something more deep seated that keeps consumers wedded to the 750ml bottle for their wine fix? We have a notion of what wine is, and it is bigger than simply what is in the glass. ‘Wine’ is the whole consumption experience, involving a bottle, a cork (how wedded some consumers are to in-neck closures!), a glass, and the act of pouring. Could it be that by taking away one of these elements – the bottle – the consumer feels somewhat impoverished in the wine consumption act? Certainly, if I’m drinking wine in a restaurant that’s on tap, I really like it when it arrives at the table in a carafe or even a re-usable glass bottle. Then you keep the pouring experience, which seems to me intrinsic to the experience of wine. I rarely order wine by the glass, because I miss the pouring experience and feel slightly unfulfilled when a pre-poured glass of wine arrives at the table. And if I do, I often want to see the bottle that I’m being poured from. Perhaps I’m unusual in this regard, but I do think this could be an explanation as to why we find it so hard to leave the bottle behind. Interestingly, often bag-in-box branded wine has a picture of a bottle or bottles of the same brand on the label, illustration how central for our concept of wine the bottle is.

I like the 750ml bottle and I think it’s here to stay. The half-bottle size might be more practical, but it rarely has any traction outside sweet wines. Perhaps it’s because it is the perfect size for two people to experience a wine with lunch or dinner, although I know thirsty folk who think of it as the perfect size for one person with a meal. I’m not judging… As for alternative packaging, I’m very keen on greater sustainability, but a wine company is only sustainable if it makes a profit and alternative packaging that commoditizes wine might reduce this profitability.

  • Jamie Goode is a London-based wine writer, lecturer, wine judge and book author. With a PhD in plant biology, he worked as a science editor, before starting wineanorak.com, one of the world’s most popular wine websites.


1 comment(s)

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    Kwispedoor | 4 June 2024

    One thing to keep in mind is that most standard boxes and wine racks are also specifically designed for 750ml bottles.

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