In Vino Veritas

Interesting update on this topic. The Washington Post has weighed in on this issue as it relates to women — the debate continues.


Now for something completely different. This may be relevant to writing only in that some writers are also wine drinkers.

A while back my husband and I went shopping for wine glasses. Nothing fancy. Just plain everyday wine glasses that would fit inside and withstand the dishwasher. We went to several retail stores – not high end, but the sort that sell cheap glasses in boxed sets.

We examined the inventory in three different stores, and couldn’t find wine glasses smaller than 12 or 16 ounces. I thought, that’s a lot of wine. We ended up finding the 8-ounce glasses we sought at a store that supplies caterers, who, apparently, are the only ones who care about pouring too much wine.

I started wondering about these huge 16-ounce glasses. That’s a pint. The size of a glass of ale in the UK. Pints in the US have shrunk as wine glasses have expanded.

I did some research on wine portions and glass sizes. I started with the cookbooks on my shelf. My grandmother’s Good Housekeeping Cookbook from 1949 explained that a cocktail glass holds 2-3 ounces while a wine glass holds 4-6 ounces. My 1951 copy of The Joy of Cooking sidestepped portion size altogether, but joined the fray in its 1973 edition. They advise that a bottle of wine (25.6 ounces) should deliver 8 servings, so that works out to a portion size of a bit over 3 ounces.

That same year, Dione Lucas, the other French chef, didn’t mention portion size, but provides very specific instructions for glass size: 6 inches high, with 2.5 inch stem, round base of 2.75 inches diameter, and the bowl has a depth of 3 inches. That’s fairly close in proportion to the 8-ounce glasses I have in my cupboard. She suggested that wine should fill no more than a third of the glass. She would pour for her guests around 2.6 ounces of wine. That’s akin to what is poured these days for wine-tastings.

Which returns me to that 16-oz wine glass. If we observe what she suggests, then an appropriate serving would be 5.3 ounces, which means that a bottle will yield 4.8 glasses of wine. That’s several fewer than what was recommended in 1973.

Okay. So we all know we’re in the supersize-me nation, that everything has increased in size. I sought some guidance from a current source. Etiquette Scholar suggests that 5 ounces is considered the reasonable pour.

Others have noted that if you’re using those 16-ounce glasses, it’s not difficult to drink considerably more than 5 ounces. City Girl Bites has pondered this dilemma and recognized that those supersized wine glasses may deliver as much as 12 ounces of wine. The Australians, who are famous for their own wine industry, have sought to develop guidelines that leave no doubt about portion sizes. They suggest that an average 750 ml bottle should yield 6.8 servings of wine — or slightly less than 4 ounces per serving. So there we have it.

If there isn’t enough confusion about the appropriate serving size for a glass of wine, we can add the question of health. How much is too much?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define binge drinking as consuming 4 or more drinks in a single occasion for women, or 5 or more drinks for men. Count yourself as a heavy drinker if you consume more than 8 drinks per week as a woman, and 15 drinks per week as a man. They also cite a source that defines moderate drinking as 1 drink per day for a woman and 2 drinks per day for a man. Do the math. It appears that the difference between being a moderate and heavy drinker is one drink per week. And they don’t even touch the question of serving size.

I think of my Uncle Weldon who was a Don Draper type in the 1960s (and had a key to the Playboy Club to prove it), then became an AA type in the 1980s, then an on-again, off-again drinker in the new millennium. Last I heard, he was still going strong in his mid-80s. There was my dad who was a boozer until he died at 82, and my brother who followed in his footsteps and died at 41. They all drank too much. Glass sizes played no role in that at all.

Perhaps we indulge in sophistry when arguing whether one is a heavy or moderate drinker. What matters is the expanding volume of wine glasses. For me it was a practical and aesthetic concern. Sixteen ounce glasses won’t fit in my dishwasher or my cupboard. They’re akin to those oversized SUVs that won’t fit in average garages. Aside from that, as City Girl Bites notes, they invite us to drink more than we may have intended.

I still haven’t found the answer to the question about how much is too much. I think about Don Draper and all his pals. They relied on spirits, not wine, which are still measured in 1.5-ounce shots that have not changed size over the decades. So perhaps the moral of the story is this: if you want to accurately track your alcohol consumption, drink spirits.



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