Thursday 27 October 2016

A pint of wine

Let us consider…quantity. Something wine drinkers rarely do. It’s as if people are embarrassed talking about, let alone measuring, the amount of this stuff they might actually consume. And so wine quantities are effectively disguised in the classy euphemisms of glass and bottle.

But Sam Allardyce, the England football manager, was recently caught in a sting operation by investigative journalists. And soon after the video of his conversation was released, someone pointed out that he appears to be drinking a pint of wine.

Now there may be a snobbish angle to this, the assumption that, whatever the drink it contained, someone from the West Midlands would be more comfortable with a pint glass in his hand. An imagined conversation which would have gone:

“I’ll have ‘pint.”
“Well, we’ve got a lovely bottle of Chassagne Montrachet we’ve just opened…”
“Right. I’ll have ‘pint.”

Some have said that it is clearly a glass of flat lager. Others that the consumption of a pint of wine provides some explanation for any injudicious comments one might make about one’s predecessor or one’s employers. After a pint of wine, people have suggested, anyone might mispronounce a complicated name like Rashford.

But let’s be honest. Which of us has not drunk a pint of wine at a sitting?

Perhaps not from a beerglass, indeed. But a 750ml bottle is a pint and a third. If you add in a glass of white before dinner, can any of us say that we have never drunk that much wine in an evening?

Imagine (raising the tone just a notch from Mr Allardyce) dinner with the philosopher Immanuel Kant. Given his potential to go off on one about the difference between pure and empirical knowledge, you might not have anticipated a fun evening round at the Kants’. And then you discover that at Immanuel’s dinner parties, “Before each guest was placed a pint bottle of red wine and a pint bottle of white”.

Phew. The Wine Society advises, in its Wedding and Party Planning Guide, that “The average guest will consume about one to two drinks per hour”. And Laithwaites, whose planners estimate a two-hour wedding meal, suggests you should “Allow two or three glasses of wine per guest ". 

But as lawyers say, time is of the essence here. Two hours might work for a wedding meal, circumscribed by speeches and the like, but the average dinner party surely sprawls over more than two hours. I’d feel a bit short-changed if I journeyed across town to arrive at seven thirty for eight, and was out of the door before the News at Ten.

And it sprawls because, inspired by wine, people talk.. As Kant himself wrote, “Wine induces merriness, boisterousness, wittiness and open-heartedness. Thus it is good for conversation, sociability, and virtue.” That’s the conviviality of wine, which is neither the communal roistering of beer, nor the solitary melancholy of whisky.

I’m guessing that the average dinner party lasts at least four hours. Which pushes that consumption level back up to nearer a bottle a head. A pint of wine.

So it’s actually in the manner of the measurement – or, indeed, the manners. We address the quantity of our wine discreetly, in glasses, and bottles. We do not pour it all out at once, and patiently and publicly work our way through it.

And we keep measurement in pints for beer and milk. As a consequence, a measure of a pint is now considered irredeemably basic, and ‘basic’ is the antithesis of wine. If Kant had provided a bottle each of red and white, we’d just think he was being very generous; by providing a pint of wine, it becomes crude.

Which can only be what I believe they call a philosophical distinction.



  1. Churchill liked his Pol Roger in pint bottles. The right size between two at lunch or one at dinner. I cannot imagine a pint glass being involved.

    1. Thank you – not only are you absolutely right, but it now seems that Pol Roger are returning to what Berry Bros describe as "God's own bottle size" following Brexit:
      Excellent news!

  2. I think a 750ml bottle is roughly a pint and a half, not a pint and a third - assuming of course a 500ml pint and not the old-fashioned 'proper' pint, which is 568ml.

    1. Assume not - I am a byword for 'old-fashioned' and 'proper'!


  3. I would never drink wine out of a pint glass, never! I might drink a pint of wine, and probably a pint and a third if I'm feeling thirsty, but not out of a pint glass. Wine glasses are made in distinctive shapes to bring out the complex flavours and aromas of red and white wine. Plus I like holding them and looking fabulously pretentious :)


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