Read on while you can, because this might be the only time you’ll hear me asking for less wine, please.

A small but significant step towards a potentially more civilised drinking culture was taken this week with the overruling of a decision by Westminster Council.

The council had originally ruled that Selfridges’ Wonder Bar was contravening the Weights and Measures Act by serving 75ml measures of wine, but Selfridges has since won a challenge, and thus the right to serve wine in measures other than the standard 125ml, 175ml and 225ml. (There’s a little more info here, via Time Out’s London blog, along with a slightly terrifying picture of a pretty lady.)

Here's a stock photo of some wine.

The revised ruling is great news for any business that wants to let its customers sample a wide range of wines, either before they invest in a whole bottle, or simply with a view to tasting more wines over the course of an evening that would be possible (financially or corporally) with larger measures.  What’s more, it’s a welcome opportunity to re-think the way that we have gradually come to serve wines in most restaurants and bars in this country.

Once upon a time, a ‘small’ glass of wine measured 125ml, and a large glass 175ml.  Now, here’s a fun exercise for you – go into any bar, pub or restaurant this evening, order a small glass of wine (just bite the bullet and do it, for me), and if you get served a 125ml glass then I’ll stand you another one.

Somehow, for reasons that I don’t understand but which are probably to do with profit margins, standard serving sizes have crept up. Most establishments now serve a ‘small’ 175ml and a ‘large’ 225ml glass – that’s getting on for 1/3 of a bottle of wine. They’ll often serve you a 125ml measure if you specifically ask for it (just as Starbucks will still let you have a ‘short’ coffee if you request one, even though their standard sizes are now essentially ‘medium’, ‘large’, and ‘bucket’, only in Italian), but it certainly doesn’t come as standard.

I hope it’s clear that I don’t have the slightest problem with people drinking as much wine as they choose to. I simply don’t think that people always do know how much they’re drinking, and I know that this sometimes happens in situations when they really would like to know. When they’re planning on driving, for example, and think they’re safe with two glasses, but that actually equates to nearly 2/3 of a bottle, or 5 units. Choice is never really choice unless it’s informed, after all.

I don’t drive, so I can indulge without that worry, but I’d still much rather get more variety for my buck. I’d prefer to drink the equivalent of a bottle of wine via 6 different varieties than in 3 buckets. Some wines are pleasanter in smaller servings, and smaller measures mean that your palate won’t get jaded. I know that often we don’t drink wine for the pure oenophilic pleasure, but if we’re to move to a more civilised drinking culture, it’s stupid to find ourselves in a situation where we think that drinking 1/3 of bottle in one glass is really always the best way to proceed.* It’s happened with coffee, it’s happened with soft drinks at fast-food retailers, and it makes me sad that it’s becoming standard with wine.

*If you’re in a mood where this absolutely does seem like the best way to proceed, then I recommend dispensing with the glass entirely.

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