by Mary Williams
New rules governing wine-by-the-glass measures have been slammed by restaurateurs, many of whom were totally unaware of the imminent change to the law and could face huge bills for new glasses.
From 1 January there will be two options for serving wine by the glass. First, it can be served in 125ml or 175ml measures in lined glasses carrying the Government Crown stamp - already in use on pub beer glasses.
Alternatively, it can be served using an optic measure system, or the wine can be transferred from a stamped glass or container that measures exactly 125ml or 175ml into an unstamped glass.
The new law, which is designed to enforce metric measures of alcoholic beverages, affects the serving of all still wines and spirits but does not include sparkling wines, such as Champagne, or fortified wines.
Restaurateurs have attacked the new law, the Weights and Measures (various foods) (amendment) Order 1990, for preventing restaurants from serving wines at the table into fine, unstamped, glasses.
Michael Gottlieb, newly appointed chairman of the Restaurateurs Association of Great Britain and proprietor of London's two Smollensky's restaurants, said he was "furious" about the changes. He described Government-stamped glasses as "ugly".
Mr Gottlieb only became aware of the changes when his glass-supplier recently informed him. He blames the Government for not publicising the change, which was announced in 1990 after a consultation period.
From January, he is planning to serve 175ml of wine in unmarked glasses after pouring the wine into a lined glass to check the measure - a system that he admits is hugely time-consuming. He concedes he may have to introduce stamped glasses but will watch "what other people do".
At the moment, Smollensky's serves a measure of wine that comes between the two new measures in a lined glass with no Government stamp. Mr Gottlieb said he was now uncertain about what to do with these glasses.
He said he believed the larger measure was excessive - two glasses would put customers dangerously near the legal limit for driving - and too expensive, while the other measure was "absurdly" small.
Choice of glass
David Lawlor, sales and marketing director at leading glassware manufacturer Ravenhead, said: "We have received a lot of phone calls from customers asking, to my astonishment, 'What's all this about?'"
Mr Lawlor is circulating information about the changes to customers. He predicts that some customers may change from crystal glasses, which it would be inappropriate to mark, to sturdy, reasonably priced ranges of glasses that are designed to carry the Government mark.
The Department of Trade and Industry, which admits it has not publicised the law change, attacked the industry for being sleepy. "The information about the change in the law is not new - the problem is that people have preferred not to think about it," claimed a spokeswoman.
She said trading standards officers would initially be sympathetic about law breakers but "six months later will take a very dim view".
Sources suggested trading standards officers might bring a "high-profile" prosecution in order to bring home to the industry the seriousness of the changes.
Gerard Basset, joint owner of the Hotel du Vin in Winchester and one of the country's leading sommeliers, condemned the law as "stupid". He said he had been trying to find out about the law but had yet to be sent any information.
Mr Basset said he would probably decant wine into a marked container behind the bar and then transfer it to an unmarked glass. This would mean that he could no longer serve the wine direct from the bottle into a glass at the table.
Phil Phillips, general secretary of the British Hospitality Association, said the BHA had been informing members for a year.
At the time of the consultation, the BHA proposed a 150ml measure. "If the consumer kicks up a fuss saying the new measures are not what they wanted then maybe we will still have a chance to change them," said Mr Phillips.
Belinda Jacobs, wine marketing manager for Carlsberg-Tetley, agreed many people were unaware about the changes in wine measurements and said it would cost the industry money.