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Ballooning wine glasses driving higher consumption‚ warn academics

14 December 2017 - 15:12 By Claire Keeton
A glass of wine and a cellphone. File picture
A glass of wine and a cellphone. File picture
Image: Bruce Gorton

You may want to gaze at (not only into) your wine glass this Christmas and contemplate a sobering fact: the size of wine glasses has increased almost seven times in the past 300 years.

A new study suggests this may be encouraging people to drink more. “The rising levels of drinking may be partly due to the growing size of wine glasses‚” researchers report in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal.

They collected measurements for 411 glasses in England‚ dating from 1700 to 2017‚ and found capacity had risen from an average of 66ml in 1700 to almost half a litre (449ml) in 2017.

The Cambridge University team said: “Wine drinking rose almost fourfold during 1960-80‚ almost doubling again during 1980-2004.”

In South Africa‚ domestic sales of wine rose to 436.9 million litres last year‚ up from 425 million litres in 2015‚ even though domestic wine production went down. SA Wine Industry statistics from June 2017 also showed an increase in exports.

South Africa is the seventh biggest wine-producing country in the world‚ with Italy taking first place‚ the International Organisation of Vine and Wine reported in June.

Acclaimed international wine judge and connoisseur Michael Fridjhon said: “Increased consumption figures are the result of more people discovering the joy of wine‚ mainly at the expense of hard tack.”

The British researchers suggested that lower prices‚ increased availability and the marketing of bigger glasses could all be contributing to the increased consumption of alcohol.

“Larger tableware is known to increase food consumption‚” they said.

In South Africa‚ bigger wine glasses are increasingly popular in restaurants and homes. But far from fuelling consumption‚ Fridjhon said they could have the opposite effect with people “getting more pleasure from less wine”.

He added: “The exception to this is the restaurants‚ where the wine waiters keep trying to top up the glasses to force the host into ordering an extra bottle. Inevitably some succeed — which certainly increases sales and forces up consumption.”

The founder of Wine Wizard‚ Fridjhon said: “While bigger glasses don’t always guarantee a better experience‚ the success of brands like (Austrain glassware maker) Riedel shows that consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the relationship between glass shape and enhanced drinking pleasure.”

The editor of Winemag.co.za‚ Christian Eedes‚ agreed that bigger bowls enhanced drinking pleasure. “From a wine culture point of view I would like to see more elegant glasses in restaurants‚” he said.

Alcohol is the fifth largest risk factor for early death and disability in high income countries‚ the study noted.

The researchers said pricing wine according to glass size could reduce how much people drink — but predicted this step would be more popular in January than over the festive season.