Wine bottles are a lot like people. They have a tough exterior, difficult to open, full of wine...
But in all seriousness, wine bottles are just like people in the sense that they come in many different sizes, shapes, and colours. It’s one of the great joys of stepping into a wine store (or scrolling through a digital wine rack) - seeing all the variety on display. From the tall slender bottles to the fat squatty ones. The traditional shapes to the unusual modern bottles. And then there's the colour variety! Pale greens, deep inky tones, clear bottles that show off the wonderful hues of the wine within… The fact is that the bottles themselves can draw you in before you even take a sip!
In this edition of the #WmSipGuide we're taking a closer look at different bottle styles and exploring why a winemaker/vineyard would choose one shape or colour over another - And you might be surprised to learn that the bottle choice is about much more than just aesthetics...
BACK TO WHERE IT STARTED: REGIONS & GRAPES
There really isn't any set rules as to why a winery would choose tall slim bottles over a short and fat one. But there are a few trends throughout history that give us some answers.
The shape of the wine bottle typically has a connection to the grape types and the location those grapes are originally from. For example, you’ve probably noticed that Chardonnays and Pinot Noir wines tend to come in the classic short and fat Burgundy shaped bottles - which is the region of France where those grapes were first cultivated.
So why different regions use different shaped bottles? Well, that’s one of those topics that wine people like to argue over. And it's an argument that doesn't really have an answer. But many historians speculate that back in the day when regular trade routes were not established, wines would have more or less stayed in the regions they were made in and would have been made for the local people and taverns. So it seems likely that each region’s distinctive style of wine bottle manufacturing would have evolved by itself, and allowed for local wineries to make their products distinctive.
As the New World wine industry developed, it's likely that newly developed wineries would have adopted what had always been. Therefore, Cabernet Sauvignon from 20th century California would have been bottled in a similar style to Cabernet Sauvignon from 18th century France because, well, just because that’s just how it’s always been.
While the glass colour might seem like just an aesthetic choice, it actually can serve a functional purpose and helps give you hints about the wine inside. The dark-tinted glass was added into the bottle design as a way to protect the wine from too much light and thus make it last longer. Too much exposure to light and harmful UV rays can speed up the process of decay, so darker glass colours can be especially helpful with red wines that are meant to be stored and aged for longer. But on the other hand, that dark tent isn't necessary for wines that are meant to be enjoyed young (soon after harvest). This is why rosé wines are typically bottled in clear glass, as they are not usually supposed to be aged and the transparent bottle allows you to easily see the pink hue of the wine.
COMMON WINE BOTTLE STYLES
Now that we've got the basics covered, let’s take a look at the 4 main wine bottle shapes and what grape types are most commonly associated with that bottle style.
Probably the world's most common wine bottle shape, this classic design comes from the early days of winemaking in Bordeaux in France, which is arguably one of the world's most iconic wine regions. With straight sides, standing tall and proud, and sharply-cut high shoulders that lead up to a straight neck - it’s a design that can be seen in every wine-producing country around the world.
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc
This is the sexy and voluptuous bottle - wide at the base, with a soft curve up into a shorter neck. Unlike the Bordeaux, the Burgundy has few straight edges and no shoulders to speak of, with just a sensual curvy shape that gradually slopes to the top of the bottle. Think "big booty" bottle.
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc
THE ALSACE / RHINE / MOSEL
Tall, slender, and elegant, the Alsace bottle comes from the shifting borders between Germany and France. These bottles tend to have a very shallow indent on the bottom and look fantastic when displayed. The slimmer size allows for the bottles to be more easily transported as they take up less space and weigh a bit less. However, they don‘t store as well in most domestic wine racks and tend to be more delicate.
Grapes: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Gruner Veltliner
Similar to the Burgundy bottle, but Champagne-style bottles are made from much thicker and heavier glass (which is necessary for withstanding the pressure of all those bubbles!). This bottle style also traditionally has a large indent in the bottom. While it's called Champagne, this bottle style has been imitated by sparkling wine producers around the globe and can be used with any style of bubbly wine.