Avoir/Prendre de la bouteille


This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food and wine. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Avoir/Prendre de la bouteille.”

Literally translated as, “Having/Gaining some bottle,” it is a colloquial expression that illustrates the fact that a thing or a person gains value, experience, or wisdom with age.

Example: “L’entretien s’est bien passé, mais ils ont préféré embaucher un commercial qui avait plus de bouteille.” “The interview went well, but they chose to hire a salesman who had more bottle.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

Originally, the expression was only used in regards to the aging of wine and other spirits, indicating that they had spent a number of years inside a bottle, as opposed to the casks or barrels of their young days. It was not always meant as a good thing then: not all wines benefit from aging, and even those that do will eventually fade if aged for too long.

Although you could say the exact same thing of people, the idiom took on a generally positive implication when it crossed over to humans in the late nineteenth century, focusing on the good things one gains when one gets older — and I’m not just saying that because I’m about to turn thirty. It can still be used to talk about wine but, again, in a positive light.

  • I love this. Thanks for posting. Makes it much easier than picking up my old college textbook. :)

  • In Britain, Having some bottle means having some courage rather than wisdom. Possibly this is associated with the sort of courage occasionally got from a bottle tho’!

    Don’t worry about being thirty Clotilde, you’ll still look young and fabulous – just ask Maxence.

    It’s when 45 hits you you have to worry – I should know it hit me last year!!

  • Aiyana

    I’m not surprised to hear that the French have a few wine-related idioms floating about!

  • Liz – aka Nutty Gnome

    Griffin’s right about the use of ‘having some bottle’ in the UK. It also gets used in the negative sense – someone who has ‘lost his bottle’ or ‘bottled out’ has been cowardly and not done something he should have done! For example “he bottled out of telling his boss what he really thought of his idea”

    Don’t worry about turning 30 – you look great (and I’ll be 50 next year!) :)

  • It’s interesting how many food-related idioms you have in the French language, there seems to be a lot!


  • EB

    Hey 30 honestly is great. It’s been one of my best years yet!

  • Alix

    Unless I misheard, Clotilde, you pronounced the ‘s’ at the end of ‘plus’ even though the next word started with a consonant. I thought final consonants were never pronounced otherwise…? And to think I took French for five years, quel dommage! ;-)

  • Alix – Ah yes, “plus” is one of the (many) pronunciation exceptions of the French language. Depending on the context in which it’s used, it can be pronounced [plü], [plüs], or [plüz]. Here are two primers I’ve found, though I can’t imagine why they would use [ploo] as a phonetic guideline when the French “u” sounds so little like “oo.”

  • babette

    Clotilde, I love your edible idioms and only today noticed the pronunciation player- formidable. I feel a little guilty having posted my own idiom discovery on my blog. Do the French use the expression “faire une brioche”? Check it out.

  • Gaining wisdom and losing inhibitions may be related!

  • I had never heard of this expression before and can not wait to use it in conversation…
    I am also trying to fill up with ‘more bottle’ myself these days ;-)

    Merci beaucoup!

  • In honor of Bastille day, some radio hosts devoted a segment to french food idioms the other day, and I thought of this blog!
    If you are interested, here it is.

  • Vegetalion – Cute! Thanks a lot for the link!

  • Hi there, I have a question for you.

    I’ve just bought a very cute shopping bag which includes the phrase “on va bien rissoler”. It’s like this one, except it’s a purple bag, not a green cart.

    I was told the phrase is something like “we’ll have a laugh”, but I’m not sure if it’s a saying or a joke. Could you explain it properly, please?

  • Cath – It’s a pun. The basic phrase is, “on va bien rigoler,” literally, “we’re going to laugh a lot,” which is used to mean, “this is going to be fun!”

    The pun here is a play on the resemblance between “rigoler” (colloquial version of “to laugh”) and “rissoler,” a culinary term that means “to cook in a pan until light brown.”

    Because the pun is written on a shopping bag that is designed for market-going and illustrated with vegetables, it essentially means that you’re going to have fun cooking with your purchases.

    Hope that helps!

  • Thank you very much, that’s just perfect! It is always fun going to the market and coming home with the goodies to play with. Most recently, we have locally grown truffles.

    The other bags in this range are fun, too. I got one with apples as a gift for a friend, and it says “Pom Pom Pom Pidou”. I know pomme=apple and I’ve seen the Pompidou centre, so that one was easier with my limited French.

  • Cath – Glad to have been of help! I’m not entirely sure, but the apple message may also be in reference to Betty Boop: she used to be a really popular character in France, and in the French version her famous boop-boop-a-doop is transcribed as “Pou-pou-pidou.”

  • After experiencing my first Bal des Pompiers on Sévigné in the 4eme this year.. I can understand the significance of prendre de la bouteille! Clotilde, thanks for your insightful blog! Your feedback would mean a lot to us on a project we are doing to help Europe’s small traditional food & drink producers. You can read a bit about it and see a demo on the press release located here.
    A bientot j’espere!

  • Marilyn

    Just listened to your discussion of French food idioms on the KCRW, Los Angeles, “Good Food” radio program (podcast). I enjoyed it thoroughly. As usual, you were thorough, insightful and delightful. Bravo, Clotilde et felicitations.

  • kaara

    thanks for these “edible idioms”–have been reading your site and didn’t notice them until now.

    I think that the most colloquial translation into English for the “prendre de la bouteille” example about the salesman would be to say someone is “has the right vintage”; it suggests both age and respect and gets the right idea across.

  • lyn

    I have a couple of these cute shopping bags as mentioned above and could use some help with translations…
    1. Un zest pour ma planete
    2. I want to be frit
    3. Pom pom pidou

    I think I can get the general idea of them, but was just hoping to get an actual explanation of the puns!!

    Thank you to anyone that can help!

  • Lyn – Here’s the explanation for each of these puns:

    – “Un zeste pour ma planète” is a pun on “un geste pour ma planète” — a gesture for my planet, which refers to small eco-friendly gestures.

    – “I want to be frit” is a pun on “I want to be free” but “frit” (“frit” and “free” are pronounced the same in French) means “fried”.

    – “Pom pom pidou” is a pun on Marilyn’s “poopoo pidoo”, with “pom” sounding like “pomme” (apple).

    Hope that helps!

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