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Every time I walk around a wine shop, I am always amazed by the variety of different shapes and sizes of wine bottles. My wine rack at home works best with the high-shouldered Bordeaux bottles. So, do these other wine bottle shapes actually matter?
Other than Champagne bottles which are thicker and heavier to contain the pressure of the bubbles, the shape of a wine bottle does not impact the quality or taste of the wine at all. Full-bodied wines are usually in Bordeaux bottles, while medium-bodied wines will be in Burgundy bottles.
Let’s take a closer look at the more common wine bottle shapes and see how they can actually help you select the perfect wine for your next dinner party.
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Does Wine Bottle Shape Matter
In one way, the shape of a wine bottle matters as it helps to identify the broad category of wine in the bottle. At the same time, the bottle’s shape does not indicate the quality of that wine, nor does it affect the quality of the wine once it is bottled.
Burgundy bottles are associated with medium-bodied wines, while you can expect to taste a full-bodied wine from a Bordeaux bottle.
These traditions stem from the regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux being known for medium-bodied and full-bodied wines, respectively. These two bottle shapes are the most commonly used and account for more than 90% of the wines at my local wine store.
The most recognizable bottle shape is the sparkling wine bottle. This is the instance where the shape of the bottle does matter. The bottle is notably heavier, with thicker glass to withstand the added pressure created by the sparkling wine inside.
Another bottle shape that matters for a different reason is the Alsatian or Rhine bottle. It is taller, more slender, and elegant. The reason why this shape matters so much is that most domestic wine racks are made to accommodate Burgundy and Bordeaux bottles, as they are the most common shapes.
Conversely, the taller, slender shape of the Alsatian bottle doesn’t fit well into domestic wine racks and has a tendency to slide out of the rack.
Other wine bottle shapes have marketing value and are used to make certain wine bottles stand out on the shelves of a wine store. There are two examples that spring to mind:
- The first is the round Chianti fiasco bottle with its woven straw basket.
- The second is the flat-sided Bocksbeutel, or Cantil as it is known in Portugal, where it is used for the famous Mateus Rosé.
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What Do Wine Bottle Shapes Mean
Most wine bottles have traditional shapes that have been unchanged for centuries and are used worldwide for wines in the same style as that bottle’s region of origin.
For instance, a Californian Pinot Noir or Chardonnay will be in a Burgundy-shaped bottle. Likewise, a South African Cabernet, Merlot, or Chenin Blanc will be in a Bordeaux-shaped bottle.
In the case of cultivars that are not traditionally from Burgundy or Bordeaux, medium-bodied cultivars are usually in Burgundy bottles, while Bordeaux bottles are used for full-bodied wines.
Let’s look at some of the more well-known bottle shapes so that you can pick them out easily next time you are in a wine store.
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The oldest of the modern bottle shapes are Burgundy bottles dating back to the nineteenth century. They are recognizable by the gradual slope from the neck to the bottle’s body.
The reason these bottles were created in their distinct shape was that it was the easiest shape for glass blowers to blow and took less time for the glassblower to complete.
Wine producers in Burgundy use this bottle shape in green glass for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Other wine producers around the world have taken to using Burgundy bottles for their red wines that have a similar flavor profile to Pinot Noir (light-bodied to medium-bodied), such as Gamay and Etna Rosso.
The same principle applies in Spain where, for example, Pau Gomez at Bodega Mil300 uses Burgundy bottles for his wood-matured Bobal red and rosé.
Very soon after the Burgundy bottle was created, the wine producers of Bordeaux wanted their own unique wine bottle shape, and the Bordeaux bottle was created.
What makes the Bordeaux bottle look distinctly different is that it has a pronounced shoulder so that the longer body of the bottle is more cylindrical.
The longer, cylindrical shape means that the base of the bottle is narrower than the Burgundy bottle. The shape also makes the bottles more stable when stacked on top of each other.
According to winemaker Pau Gonzalez many believe that the shoulder of the Bordeaux bottle was created in order to catch the sediments while decanting the wine.
However, he told me that there is no direct evidence to show that this was the reason for the design, even though the shoulder does help catch sediment. He personally believes that the design was to distinguish the fine wines of Bordeaux from those in Burgundy.
The two most popular red wines in the world, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, both originate from Bordeaux and are traditionally bottled in Bordeaux bottles.
Aside from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Bordeaux bottles became popular for full-bodied wines, especially those more prone to developing sediment. I took a glance at the shelves of my local wine market, and from what I can see, Bordeaux bottles seem to be the most popular choice of bottle.
All of the wine racks I’ve owned have worked best with Bordeaux bottles, so it makes sense to me that these have become the most popular bottles.
TIP: Bordeaux wines are great for aging; check out how long it takes to age this wine in this article. And now a question from the other side of wine quality, what do you think: can you age cheap wine? Discover the answer in this article.
For a long time, I hadn’t realized that there was a difference between a Burgundy bottle and a Rhone bottle. It was only while preparing for this article that I took the advice of Pau Gomez and went to our local wine market and put the two bottles side by side.
Although very similar to the Burgundy bottle, I noticed that the Rhone bottle was about an inch taller thanks to a longer neck than the Burgundy bottle.
Similar to the Bordeaux and Burgundy bottles, some wineries in other countries bottle their Rhone varietal wines (such as Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier, Syrah, Marsanne, and Roussanne) in Rhone bottles. However, this isn’t as common as the taller bottles need adjustments made to the bottling machines.
A friend of mine owns a mobile bottling machine that he takes around to small wineries to do their bottling. He does his best to persuade customers to use Burgundy bottles in place of Rhone bottles for a few reasons:
- Firstly, they are more widely available and hence cheaper.
- Secondly, they are the same height as the Bordeaux bottles, meaning that he doesn’t need to constantly adjust the settings on the bottling machine when switching between bottle types.
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The exterior shape of a Champagne bottle is essentially the same as that of a Burgundy bottle. However, the glass is both thicker and heavier to be able to cope with the pressure of the bubbles. Champagne bottles are tested to ensure that they can withstand a minimum of 16 bars of pressure.
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In addition, Champagne bottles traditionally have a larger than usual punt (the indent in the bottom of the bottle). This helps ensure that the base of the bottle is strong enough to withstand the pressure and as a way to collect the yeast sediment during the second fermentation in the bottle.
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The fourth and final of the more commonly used wine bottles are Alsatian bottles, sometimes also referred to as Mosel or Rhine bottles.
These bottles were the third of the classic bottle shapes to be developed and came into existence shortly after Bordeaux bottles. Alsatian bottles have an instantly recognizable shape, being taller, more slender, and delicate with a much shallower punt.
Alsatian bottles were used by wineries along the Rhine River on both sides of the French/German border and were originally created for storing both dry and sweet Riesling wines. These days Alsatian bottles are also used for Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.
While Bordeaux and Burgundy bottles needed to be sturdy and strong enough to withstand shipping across the ocean to Britain on sometimes rough seas, Alsatian bottles could be delicate as they were transported down the Rhine on small river ships.
It is believed that the small, slender river ships gave rise to the shape of the Alsatian bottles, as it was possible to fit more bottles in the hull of a river ship if the bottles were slender.
During the school vacations I spent on the family wine farm in South Africa, I learned about the tradition of choosing between green and amber Alsatian bottles.
Green bottles were used for bottling dry varieties, and amber bottles for sweet varieties. I asked my uncle if the amber glass was used for sweet wines to keep more light out to prevent secondary fermentation.
His reply was that the South African wine producers settled on those colors when they realized that sweet wines sold poorly when bottled in green glass, as brown was more associated with sweet tastes.
When I think of an Italian Bistro, the image of a traditional Fiasco of Chianti springs to mind. However, these days most Chianti is bottled in Bordeaux bottles as they are more widely available. Bordeaux bottles are easier to work with during the bottling process and take up much less cellar space once bottled.
The Fiasco (“flask” in Italian) is the traditional round, squat bottle enclosed in a straw basket that most of us associate with Chianti.
These days the Fiasco is used by relatively few Chianti winemakers, thanks to the demand for Fiaschi from bistros in the tourist hot spots.
The Bocksbeutel wine bottle is easily recognizable by its flattened sides. They are also known as Pulcianella in Italy and Cantil in Portugal. The advantage of the Bocksbeutel bottle is that it can’t roll away on uneven ground.
The Bocksbeutel was associated with the wines of the Franconia region of Germany, most notably Würzburger Stein when the city council of Würzburg decided in 1728 that the best wine from the city’s own cellar should only be in Bocksbeutel bottles.
These days the Bocksbeutel, or Cantil, is recognized by the brand association with Mateus rosé from Portugal.
TIP: In the world of fine wines, France and California have emerged as powerhouses in the wine industry. Find out the differences between these famous wines in this article. But if you prefer California wines, this article explains why these wines are so good and unique.
Why Are Some Wine Bottles Different Shapes?
The reason that certain wine bottles have different shapes is due to glassblowing methods being different across regions as opposed to winemakers attempting to manipulate the quality of the wine.
Only the Champagne bottle has a legitimate reason for having thicker and heavier glass than other bottles, and that is to be strong enough to withstand a minimum of 16 bars of pressure.
Aside from that, the shapes of all wine bottles have a common purpose. That is to allow the bottles to be stored on their sides in a way that keeps the cork moist, maintaining an airtight seal.
Is Wine Better In A Bigger Bottle?
The larger the bottle of wine, the slower the wine will age in the bottle because there is a relatively larger volume of wine compared to the size of the cork through which wine is exposed to oxygen.
Madeline Puckette talks about corks and the aging process of wine in her book Wine Folly (available on Amazon). In order for a wine to smooth out tannins and develop nutty aromas, the wine needs to have a small amount of constant oxidation through the cork.
Conversely, many wines develop undesirable aromas if there is no exposure to oxygen at all. These conditions, known as anaerobic aging, are usually responsible for the aromas of rotten eggs and burned rubber.
The way that the bottle is sealed will directly how much oxygen passes into the wine each year. As long as the wine has the minimum amount of oxygen so that it doesn’t go anemic, winemakers can plot the curve of oxidization to predict when each vintage will be at its best.
Large bottles have a larger wine volume-to-cork ratio making for a slower maturation rate. When bottling a larger volume bottle, a winemaker will select the type of cork carefully to ensure that the minimum amount of oxygen gets through for that volume of wine to stop it from going anemic.
TIP: Have you ever wondered why wine bottles have different colors? Find out why white wines are often in clear bottles here, and why most of the wine bottles are green in this article. Another interesting feature of wine bottles is the dent on the bottom.
Why Are Larger Bottles Of Wine More Expensive?
On the surface, the simple reason why larger bottles of wine are more expensive is that the bottles, corks, and bottling machines are all non-standard, which makes the process of bottling more expensive.
Add to that the fact that each year a winery will only bottle select vintages of their best wines in larger bottles. Because larger bottles mature slower, they will only be at their best several years after the standard bottles of the same vintage are past their prime.
This makes larger bottles attractive to collectors as they will appreciate in value as the number of standard bottles of the same vintage declines over the years.
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Does A Wine Bottle Punt Mean Better Quality?
In short, there is no correlation between the punt of a wine bottle and the quality of the wine inside. The traditional purpose of the punt was to give the bottom of the bottle a stable base and strengthen the area of the bottle just above the base that is most prone to breakage.
When wine bottles were made by hand, glassblowers would use a pontil rod to hold the bottom of the bottle in place while blowing and shaping the bottle from the top. Removing a pontil rod results in a small lump of glass at the base of the bottle, making it unstable when standing upright.
Pushing the pontil rod up into the base of the bottle to form a punt just before removal means that the lump of glass is up inside the punt, leaving the bottle with a stable base.
TIP: Let’s take a closer look at the differences that make some wines more expensive to produce than others in this article. Find out more about why wine bottles have a dent in the bottom in this article.
The shape of a wine bottle does not impact the quality or taste of the wine. The choice of bottle shape pays homage to the style of wine that has been bottled.
Full-bodied wines of a Bordeaux style will be bottled in Bordeaux bottles. Likewise, medium-bodied wines are usually in Burgundy bottles, and sparkling wine will be in Champagne bottles.
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