A pint of champagne?

It is said Winston Churchill preferred his champagne in pint bottles. Now there is a proposal to bring them back. Ronnie Cohen comments.

Some popular media sources have run reports about the possible return of pint-sized bottles of champagne. According to the Champagne & Ardenne website (source: https://www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk/discover/tasting-champagne/secrets-champagne/champagne-bottle-sizes), champagne producers offer the following bottle sizes:

  • 20 cl
  • 37.5 cl
  • 75 cl
  • 1.5 L
  • 3 L
  • 6 L
  • 9 L
  • 12 L
  • 15 L
  • 18 L
  • 26.25 L
  • 27 L
  • 30 L

The two smallest sizes (20 cl and 37.5 cl) are most likely to be found on planes, in restaurants and in wine cellars. The most common sizes that are sold commercially are the next three sizes (75 cl, 1.5 L and 3 L). Bigger sizes are less common. Some of these bigger sizes are made to order.

The government is considering making a pint-sized champagne bottle legal. The pint size (i.e. 568 ml) is an odd addition to the existing sizes. There is one main problem with this proposal: the French produce and bottle champagne. I cannot see the French producing pint-sized bottles just for the British market. Why would they invest in new bottling equipment just to please Britain’s Leavers? Why would any foreign champagne producer devote time, space and money to this?

We can already find pints of milk, beer and cider on sale in UK supermarkets as I mentioned in my previous MV articles, which you can find here:

This proposal would extend the measurement muddle of milk, beer and cider to wine and champagne. Pubs serve draught beer and cider in pints but cans and bottles of beer and cider in standard metric sizes.

Some of the pro-Brexit media has described it as a Brexit dividend (i.e. benefit). What kind of benefit is it that makes it harder to make value-for-money comparisons and obscure price transparency? It doesn’t sound like a benefit to me. Some parts of the media are promoting pints for more beverages and pounds and ounces for fruit and vegetables as benefits of Brexit. Benefits for whom? Certainly not consumers. As Metric Views has said before in other articles, the use of multiple measurement systems for trade does not benefit consumers. On the contrary, it works against consumers’ interests.

Is the introduction of a new bottle size for champagne and the reintroduction of pounds and ounces in small shops and market stalls the best pro-Brexit arguments that Leavers and their friends in the media can come up with? Is that it?

I don’t recall any Leave campaigner telling the public to vote for Brexit to bring back champagne in pint bottles. As I argued in a previous MV article, many issues were raised in debates about UK membership of the EU in the referendum campaign. However, metrication was not one of them (see https://metricviews.uk/2016/06/09/metrication-not-an-issue-in-eu-referendum/).

Is this a distraction from Brexit problems such as disputes about the Northern Ireland protocol, fishing, border delays, new customs paperwork and other Brexit-related issues? Why are they talking about bringing back pint bottles of champagne when there are so many more pressing issues to deal with such as the COVID pandemic, the increase in the cost of living and NHS waiting lists?

This has one thing in common with plans to permit the use of pounds and ounces for the sale of fruit and vegetables. They are about isolationism, exceptionalism, nostalgia and a desire to return to the past.

8 thoughts on “A pint of champagne?”

  1. The use of pints for the sale of wine (still, fortified or sparkling) is certainly a retrograde step as it makes use of a unit of measure that is peculiar to the United Kingdom and as such is possibly a restraint of trade. The use of 500 ml bottles (which are widely used for many commodities in many countries) can however be justified if it makes commercial sense. From the point of view of the health industry, the use of 500 ml bottles rather than 750 ml bottles can be justified on grounds that it will reduce alcohol consumption. If somebody is counting the number of units of alcohol that they consume, they can easily calculated the number of units in a 500 ml bottle by halving the number associated with percentage alcohol by volume (for example half a litre of 12% abv wine contains 6 units of alcohol).

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  2. From the articles that I have read on the subject, it is not the 570 mL pint the industry is pushing for, it is the 500 mL pint known as the modern pint. In fact, even in France, the 500 mL size is called a “pinte”. As Ronnie notes, I doubt the French or anyone else will produce a 570 mL pint. It might turn out as was mentioned in the article that such a size would be unique to England and the result being that such a small production run would cause the price to rise. Who knows, 570 mL might even cost the same or more than 750 mL, and who would buy it.

    This problem would never have happened if the 500 mL size was included in the list of acceptable bottle sizes all along and champagnes and sparkling wines were already being produced in it. The articles mention the problems with both the 750 mL size and the 375 mL size, one being the 750 mL size is too large for a single drinker and thus once the bottle is open the wine can not be recorked as it goes flat and for the 375 mL size, it isn’t as sparkling since it loses some of its sparkle in the manufacturing process due to it being filled from a 750 mL bottle. Thus, I see no reason that there shouldn’t be a 500 mL size.

    The one thing you don’t see is the media clamoring on about beer in bottles. It is already in a 500 mL size and referred to as a pint and accepted as such. I think the noise from this issue with sparkling wines originated not with the media but with the industry. If the industry called for a 500 mL size outright without a mention of the word pint they would have gotten no media attention. So they use the word pint and get all of this attention but it isn’t the 570 ml pint the industry is proposing but the 500 mL size. I don’t think the media even cares if it is a 500 ml or 570 mL pint, just as long and the word pint gets mentioned somewhere. If this is successful, and I’m sure it will be, and it spreads to other beverages, one will see a push for 500 mL there too, maybe even milk will get on the band wagon and go from 570 mL to 500 mL as well.

    I’m sure most of England does not care if the pint is 500 mL, only a small band of Luddites is salivating about it being in a 570 mL bottle, but will be disappointed when it isn’t. Thing is how many of this group would suddenly become sparkling wine drinkers if pint bottles appeared on the shelves?

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  3. This seems to date back to 2015 when ‘over 800 imperial pint bottles’ were laid down by a certain company.
    We can only guess they had a few spare bottles to fill. The problem then was it was illegal to sell in pint bottles, the imperial heroes have been fighting ever since to make it legal to sell them.
    That is where we are at. The de-facto pint bottles (the ‘Sussex Pint’ of 568 ml I regret to add) of bubbly seem to exist and they need to get rid of them.
    There is a whole string of articles tickling the fancy of a post brexit revival of the nostalgic isolationists (Feb 2018 seems common). One interesting quote “No matter what your thoughts on leaving the EU, one benefit will be the ability to sell sparkling wine in the pint bottle.” How wonderful to have something so useful to look forward to.

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  4. Brian,

    What source do you have that the 800 bottles were imperial pints of 570 mL? From this article:

    https://rathfinnyestate.com/about/news/the-pint-bottle-is-the-perfect-measure/

    “We agreed and in 2015 we made the decision to produce 800 bottles of our Blanc de Noirs in a ‘Modern Pint’ 50cl bottle.” We had to search the continent for the bottle, but eventually found a bottle manufacturer in France who produced a 50cl sparkling wine bottle.”.

    The article claims the 800 bottles were not an imperial pint of 570 mL but a “modern pint” of 500 mL. Also, they had to search Europe for them and found them in France, where no one in France would ever bottle in a 570 mL size.

    In fact, the title of the article is: “The Modern Pint Bottle is the Perfect Measure”

    It also says: “Like Winston Churchill, we consider the Imperial Pint (56.8cl), roughly equivalent to 50cl, to be the “ideal size” for an individual at home or a couple at dinner – as it provides four generous glasses (as opposed to six in a standard 75cl bottle). However, we haven’t found anyone who makes a sparkling wine imperial pint bottle able to withstand 6 bar of pressure, yet! So we might have to settle for the ‘Modern Pint’ 50cl bottle.”

    See, they can’t find any 570 mL pint bottles and the problem with them if they existed is they can’t withstand 600 kPa pressure, so they have no choice but to settle for 500 mL. Plus with each serving size being 125 mL, it is the 500 mL size that gives them the 4 servings they mention. How do you get a round number of servings from 570 mL?

    The Luddites hear the word pint and they go crazy with excitement, but no one is promising them a 570 mL pint, just a 500 mL pint. As I said previously, how many of the Luddites would become sparkling wine drinkers if pint bottles would appear?

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  5. I am waiting for the Luddites to start complaining that the pint (568 ml) is being downsized (to 500 ml).

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  6. Metricnow,

    I’m sure they already have but can’t do much about it since 570 mL pint bottles can’t be produced and meet the 600 kPa pressure limit. They have to be happy that it will be called a pint and keep the name from dying out.

    BTW, since a pint is technically more that 568 mL, isn’t 568 mL actually an undersized amount and since no machine can fill to 568 mL, what purpose is there in mentioning it?

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  7. Rather than the producers calling it a Modern Pint, I suggest that it be called a Short Pint instead, to reflect its true nature. A pint can never be modern.

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  8. Metricnow,

    What you propose is bad marketing strategy. By calling it short, it would imply the purchaser is getting less than what they should be getting, thus short measure. You’d have a lot of people screaming. In reality, they are selling 500 mL of product and are using the name pint to get media attention they otherwise wouldn’t get.

    Pint is an ambiguous term that originated to mean a painted mark to indicate a standard measure. This standard measure has changed frequently with time. When the English colonists went to what is now the US, they brought with them the measures that were common in England prior to the 1824 imperial reform, thus a pint of 473 mL.

    The same happened with the ton. Thus the US has what is known as the short ton and the English prior to metrication had the long ton. The megagram is also called a ton but in most places it is spelled as tonne to distinguish it from the other two tons but in the US it is called the “metric ton”.

    If we apply the same logic here to the pint, then the short pint is the present US pint, the long pint would be the present UK pint of 570 mL and the 500 mL size would then be called the metric pint. But, attaching the word “metric” to pint would send the traditionalists into an uproar.

    In time if the 500 mL size becomes common eventually the word modern will be dropped and 500 mL will just be called a pint as a colloquial term, in the same fashion that in the US a short ton is called just a ton and in England prior to metrication a long ton was also called just a ton. Despite US efforts to force the qualifier metric on the word ton, it is rarely used, most people just calling it a ton or tonne.

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