Old vines at Benissa, Spain (Randi Hausken)
Here’s today’s Quiz Question, so sit up straight and try to look as though
you’re interested. Now then, what’s the capacity of a standard bottle of
wine? And stop messing around with your mobile phone, because I know what
you’re up to. Well, the answer of course is 75 centilitres. If you got the
answer right, then accept my congratulations and take the rest of the day
off. If for some inexplicable reason, you managed to get it wrong, I hope
you feel suitably humiliated.
The funny thing is
that no one is really certain why this slightly odd number became the
standard. It’s been suggested that 75cl is about the maximum that could be
hand-blown with a single lung-full of air. Another explanation is that it’s
a convenient weight for carrying. Yet another idea is that it’s about right
for a meal for two people. But why two people?
It’s probably more
likely that the standard bottle size developed by a trial-and-error process.
I’ve seen claims that ancient Roman bottles of 75cl have been unearthed and
this might add a bit of weight to the glass-blowing theory because the litre
didn’t appear until 1795. During the 19th century,
technology developed to make bottles a standard size, although various
wine-making regions opted for slightly different capacities. Even so, most
wine bottles were made to hold between 50cl and 80cl. Surprisingly, it
wasn’t until 1979 that the United States government decided that all
standard wine bottles should be 75cl - almost exactly a fifth of a gallon.
The European Union also standardised, with the result that the 75cl bottle
became adopted world-wide.
Wine bottles actually
come in well over twenty different sizes, not including those awkward heavy
glass casks that are used for cheap plonk. Apart from the 75cl bottle, the
other most common sizes are the quarter-bottle, the half-bottle and the
magnum. You’ll usually see the quarter-size bottles on aircraft. They’re
usually 18.75cl and known as the split or piccolo. In Europe,
half-bottles (37.5cl) are very common and most French châteaux offer their
wines in this size. In Thailand you might see the occasional Rhône in
half-bottles but that’s about it.
Magnums are the
equivalent of two 75cl bottles or 1.5 litres. Although the word “magnum” is
also applied to guns, plums and a brand of ice-cream it evidently first
appeared in 1788 in a prose work by the Scottish poet Robert Burns.
There’s also a range
of extra-large bottles but they are very rare and you could happily go
through life and never encounter one. They’re usually limited to Bordeaux
and Champagne and for reasons which are not entirely obvious, most of them
have Biblical names like Methuselah, Salmanazar and Balthazar. You’ll never
see these huge bottles around here except as display items in up-market wine
bars and restaurants. One of the largest bottles is called the
Nebuchadnezzar and holds 15 litres of wine, but it’s a massive thing and
almost impossible to lift. There are even larger ones used for Champagne but
pouring wine from these elephantine objects would surely be a hazardous
operation and likely to create an unseemly mess.
Viñas Veijas 2012 (red), Spain (Bt. 650 @ Wine Connection)
You’d be forgiven for
assuming that Monastrell is a quaint Spanish village nestling in the hills,
surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. It’s a lovely thought, but alas,
not true. Monastrell is actually a grape, known in France as Mourvèdre and
popular in the Southern Rhône and Provence. It tends to produce rather
tannic wines which are high in alcohol with earthy aromas and soft red fruit
Castaño is a large
winery in the old Spanish town of Yecla which lies about an hour’s drive
inland from the bustling sea port of Alicante. The wine comes with a
technical-looking no-nonsense label which I rather liked. Pour some of the
wine and you’ll see thick syrupy legs, usually a sign of plentiful alcohol,
in this case 13.5%. If you give the wine a hearty sniff you’d swear that
it’s a larger-than-life Southern Rhône, but somehow more rural and earthy.
The aroma is spicy and peppery with reminders of black cherries and plums.
Then in the background, faint woodland smells appear but it’s the pepper
that dominates - you can’t miss it.
The wine is totally
dry with pleasant flavours of black fruit and a satisfying layer of tannin,
giving it a very firm structure and a sense of authority which probably has
been inherited from the old vines (viñas veijas) that have produced
the grapes. It has a bit of rustic machismo too. If this wine were a movie
star, it would probably be Charles Bronson. I enjoy this kind of wine
because I’m rather a tough and macho type myself. You can ask any of my
friends down at the embroidery club.
Pink Moscato Sparkling, Spain (Bt. 519 @ various outlets)
But perhaps you feel
like something a little lighter. It hardly needs saying that Moscato is just
another name for Muscat, one of the oldest grape varieties in existence.
It’s grown in almost every wine-producing country in the world, as well as
several countries that wouldn’t immediately spring to mind including
Croatia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Serbia. There are a couple of hundred
Muscat varieties and they all tend to have a striking perfume-like
fragrance. They’re also light-bodied, sweetish and low in alcohol. In recent
years, they’ve become enormously popular.
wines are made at the J. García Carrión winery in La Mancha, one of the most
advanced wine-making facilities anywhere. And incidentally, you may recall
that La Mancha was the setting for Miguel de Cervantes novel, Don Quixote.
Today, La Mancha has eight hundred square miles of vineyards making it the
largest wine-making region in the world. This sparkling rosé has a heady
aroma of white flowers, fresh berries, lychee and raisins. On the palate,
you’ll get the sensation of delicate bubbles as well as the taste of summer
fruits. There’s a lively refreshing mouth-feel, a dash of acidity to balance
the pleasant sweet flavour and a very good long finish.
If you enjoy mildly
sweet sparklers, give this a try. It’s a perfect summer wine and even at
this time of year you can still enjoy it in torrential rain, assuming of
course, that you are indoors..