What's in the shape of a bottle

Subscribe

What's in the shape of a bottle

Wine bottles can have many shapes and colors. Sine we tend to use traditional shapes for specific wines the consumer can often tell just from the shape of the bottle what it is. There are the straight bottles with sharp shoulders mostly used for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Bordeaux-styles blends as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The wider bottles with gently sloping shoulders are traditionally used for Burgundy wines i.e. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Rhone bottles are also wider but with slimmer longer necks in and some Italian wines, like Chianti, used to be bottled in very bulgy bottles. The extreme is of course the Champagne bottle with thicker glass and deep punt to withstand the pressure from the bubbles. It is typically 5-6 atm. or the same as 70-90 pounds pressing on each square inch of glass.

As bottles became more commonly used as wine containers, in the 16th-17th century in some regions, the bottles had a number of different shapes. Bottles were made by local glassblowers and each region developed its own style. A wide low bottle, like a big bulb, was easier to blow so that was usually the shape. Over time it was discovered that the wine held up better if the cork was in touch with the wine and a straighter bottle was needed to store the bottle on its side. Eventually new techniques and industrialized manufacturing made it cheaper to manufacture bottles and they became the standard container for wine. Various regions standardized on shapes and sizes, but based on what had been the tradition in the region. Burgundy used to have 800ml bottles and Bordeaux had 750 ml. In the 70s and 80s both European countries and the US created standards for the 750 ml bottle. It makes it easier to sell across regions, ship and store, and of course for the authorities to tax.

West 12 LH ViognierSome shapes are very beautiful, like the tall thin bottles for Riesling from Mosel and Alsace. But they are also much harder to use in a fast moving bottling line. Our bottles for Late Harvest Viognier, which are half size (375ml), but as tall as our regular bottles require slower bottling speed since they can topple over more easily. We discovered that the hard way the first year we made our dessert wine!

Color is another distinguishing factor. Again, because of regional differences in the sand and techniques used, bottles traditionally had different colors. I use the dark green Bordeaux color for our Cabernet Sauvignon and the Bordeaux blend and various lighter greens for the white wines. Some producers use clear glass for white wines. That is fine with wine intended for a shorter shelf-life. Wine research has discovered that wine is affected by exposure to light over time and strong light can create volatile sulfur compounds, obviously not great flavors in wine. So store bottles away from fluorescent light and of course from the sunlight as well.

Written by Katarina at West Wines