Why 12 Bottles in a Case?
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed July 17, 2002. For more information go to wineloverspage.com.
Let's take a break from serious wine tasting today to toy with an ultimate wine trivia question: Why are there (usually) 12 bottles in a case of wine? My pal Tom Troiano asked this question yesterday in our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, and to this point he has stumped the experts.
I'll confess that I don't know, either. But my best guess is that it's simply a matter of tradition based on the size and shape of a box that's reasonably easy for one person to lift and that can be stacked securely in warehouse or store.
The magic number also has to fit neatly into rows in the box, so a prime number like 11 or 13 wouldn't work. Nine bottles in a 3 x 3 bottle box would probably be too small, and a 16-bottle case (4 x 4) would be almost too heavy. A 10-bottle box (5 x 2) would be too long and narrow to stack stably (although I'm told that an occasional 10-bottle box does turn up in the wine industry), and a 14-bottle case (7 x 2) would be even worse. This leaves the 12-bottle case (3 x 4) as the most reasonable alternative, although you'll occasionally see an oversize case of 15 (3 x 5).
The weight of a "fifth" (750 ml) bottle of wine varies quite a bit, by the way, but a random sample from my wine rack suggests that a typical full bottle weighs a little under 3 pounds, making a case a hefty 30 to 35 pounds or so.
It's also worth noting that beer bottles usually come 24 to a case, a box that's in the same general order of size and weight as a case of 12 wine bottles.
I TOLD you this was a trivial topic...but you should have seen Tom's other question: Why are there 18 holes in a golf course?
If these topics intrigue you or if you think you have a better theory, please feel free to drop in on the Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, where you'll find this subject under consideration at this location.