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Why Does Italian Wine Traditionally Come in 75 Centilitre Bottles?

Today, we have all sorts of containers for our Italian wines. We have those little mini bottles that you’ll often see used at bars and restaurants. Some supermarkets even offer boxed and canned wines, which is a little controversial, to say the least.

Why?

Ask a traditionalist and they will tell you that all wine should come in the 75cl bottles that they’ve been offered in for centuries. 

But a regular bottle of wine and you’ll see this size. It perhaps seems a little strange, especially as so many other drinks are available in a huge range of different sizes. But for some reason, outside of the exceptions noted above that are far from being the norm, wines traditionally come in 75cl bottles. 

Location doesn’t even matter. Whether it’s an Italian wine, a French one, or a wine from any other nation, you will still see that 75cl bottle.

The question is…

Why?

That’s the question we aim to answer in this article as we explore the history behind the traditional 75cl wine bottle and why this became the standard size for wines the world over.

Introducing the Theories

We’d love to be able to tell you that there is a cut-and-dry reason why wine bottles are 75cl. However, there isn’t. If there was, we wouldn’t have much material for an article. What we can tell you are two things.

First, the 75cl size became official as recently as 1970, when an agreement between a host of European nations made it the standard size. That agreement formed the basis of a less formal agreement that seemed to spread around the world, which is why 75cl is the standard today. Before that agreement, there were variations in bottle sizes. But even during that period, those variations never strayed too far from the 75cl standard we see today. You might have found a 73cl bottle or an 80cl bottle, but the size difference was never so large as to cause any particular interest.

So, we can see that a formal agreement led to the 75cl standard.

But that doesn’t explain why 75cl was basically the standard before it was put into writing. Most wine bottles were still about this size, so there has to be another reason for why.

In fact, there are three theories.

Theory #1 – The Meal Time Theory

The first theory we’ve come across has to do with the amount of wine the average person consumes at dinner time. Some claim that 75cl became a sort of standard because that is the amount that a person would often drink when eating dinner a long time ago.

Today, that seems a little too much. Most of us aren’t going to consume an entire bottle of wine with dinner. However, there’s still a grain of truth to this theory in the sense that a bottle will usually be enough to cover dinner for the family. You may have a couple of glasses each as a couple and find the wine is gone. So, 75cl does seem to be a good measurement for mealtimes, even if you’re not going to polish off a whole bottle on your own.

But this isn’t perhaps the least concrete theory we’ve found.

Theory #2 – The Roman Theory

Our second theory takes us back in time to those ancient purveyors of wine – The Romans.

Anybody who knows anything about Roman civilisation will be able to tell you how important wine was to this culture. The Romans even had a god dedicated specifically to wine, much as the Ancient Greeks did before them. And it appears portion sizes played a part in this theory as well.

During Roman times, drinkers used what was known as an acetabulum instead of a bottle. These drinking vessels held about 25cl of wine, which was generally considered the daily consumption for the average Roman soldier. It’s not a huge leap to think that our 75cl bottle grew from this 25cl vessel, especially as wines began being transported in larger volumes. The bottle may have come from the desire to offer three “portions” instead of one in a vessel.

This also seems to track with later trade.

As we moved into Medieval times, the English gallon became the most accepted measurement for international trade.

And English gallon is 3.75l.

75cl is a fifth of that traditional gallon.

And so, it may be that 75cl became the standard size for bottles of wine both because it fits nicely into the gallon measurement and because producers didn’t want to ship entire gallons of wine in a single bottle.

Theory #3 – The Human Lung Theory

While the transportation theory seems to be the most plausible, there is another theory that interests us.

Before the advent of machinery that could easily create bottles for us, creating an Italian wine bottle was an artisanal process that required the expertise of a professional glassblower. As the name implies, the bottle creation process includes an important step in which the professional has to use a blowing technique to form the glass into the desired shape.

This part of the process requires continuous blowing.

The theory is that the average human lung is capable of manipulating a bottle into a capacity of between 75cl and 80cl.

So, our standard measurement for wine bottles may come from a human limitation as much as it does a standard ruling. Of course, the advent of machinery made it possible for bottles of all sizes to be created. However, by that point, 75cl may have become such a standard that people just stuck with it.

The Final Word

So, it would be easy to say that a European ruling is the reason why we have the standard 75cl Italian wine bottle size.

But it’s clearly not as simple as that.

75cl became the standard for a reason. The theories presented here offer a number of potential reasons for us. The question now is…

Which of these theories do you believe to be the most plausible?

For us, the human lung theory seems interesting, as it would dictate bottle size during a time when no other options were available. But perhaps another theory tickles your fancy a little more? Or, you might have a theory of your own that we haven’t explored.

Let us know what you think and feel free to explore our website for some amazing examples of Italian wines.

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