The shape of the bottle can give clues to the wine inside

Tradition has established three basic bottle styles for “still wines” which normally illustrate the characteristics of the wines they contain. These three basic bottle shapes have the same volume of 750 milliliters, which equals one-fifth of a gallon. Hence the term, fifth used to describe the predetermined volume of this consumable alcohol.

Although glassblowing has been around for around 2,000 years, glass was only used in the 17th century to store and transport wines. In the beginning, wines were stored in clay utensils or wooden barrels with olive oil floating above the wine to prevent air from oxidizing the wine. The English perfected the art of glassblowing when they switched to charcoal to cook glass into shape. Initial volumes were based on the lung capacity of 17th century glassblowers. As the industrial age began to provide the technology, the production of glassware for wines became popular with cork bark providing the closures for these wine bottles. The world of the 17th and 18th centuries began to recognize French wines as the best, with the rest of the world lagging behind the French as the world moved into the 20th century.

The two dominant French wine regions were Bordeaux and Burgundy, with southern France adopting the ways of the Burgundy region. Bottle shapes evolved with Bordeaux styles having a slightly narrower diameter bottle than Burgundy bottles. However, the Bordeaux wine bottles had a high, wider shoulder than the shoulders of the slightly slanted Burgundy bottles. Many people believe it symbolizes the larger, more tannic Bordeaux wines that consist of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot. Burgundy wines were not as tannic, with Pinot Noir being the top red grape variety in this Burgundy wine region. Since Pinot Noir is thin-skinned, it also contains less tannin from the skin of the grape. Over time, the Rhône region in southern France has also adopted the Burgundy bottle style for its Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedere reds. White Bordeaux wines such as Chenin Blanc were also bottled using high-shouldered Bordeaux bottles while Chardonnay from Burgundy and Viognier from Rhône were bottled using sloping-shouldered bottles.

The third style of bottle for “still wines” were the tall fluted bottles used in the French region of Alsace joining Germany and draining into the Rhine and Moselle regions. These taller, fluted bottles held sassy Gewürztraminer from Alsace and fruity Riesling grapes from Germany. You could also say that there is a fourth style of bottle, namely the whimsical and flowing ornate bottles of southern France containing its dry and fruity rosé wines. I’m amazed how each chateau produces its own unique bottles, different from the others. Of course, there are other bottle styles that come from the traditions of these different wine regions. These traditions are slowly being lost with fewer and fewer bottles of Chianti in straw baskets.

Sparkling wines are completely different from the other four wine bottles due to their thicker glass to withstand the intense pressure of sparkling wine at six to seven times normal atmospheric pressure. The reason the cork pops out of the bottle is because of this intense pressure with such corks flying at over 50 miles per hour as measured by radar. The corks are attached to the bottle with wire cages attached to the ringed tops of these sparkling wine bottles.

One last thing is the indentation at the bottom of every wine bottle, well almost every wine bottle. This indentation is called a “punt” and was used by early glassblowers to hide their excess glass. This tradition has become a fad with many bottles today having this punt. However, modern technology is looking for ways to reduce the weight of glass, so punts are gradually being removed.

By looking at the shape of the bottle, you could indirectly discern what kind of wine might be inside that bottle.

Ron Saikowski can be reached at [email protected]

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