Tiedemann on Wines: Why wine comes in all shapes and sizes
While I was rummaging around in my wine cellar the other evening looking for a bottle of wine, I happened notice some bottles of wine I had sitting out and my attention was drawn to their various shapes and sizes. This started me thinking about wine bottles in general and wondering how many different shapes there are. In the production of our own wines, we use two of the primary bottle types: one style for our Cabernets and our Sauvignon Blanc, and the other for our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
There are three to four primary wine bottle shapes which date back to mid-1700s and originated in Europe. Over the years these primary shapes have been changed into eight to 12 different styles which are used today. Generally speaking bottle shapes do represent the region or wine varietal. In Europe it is especially important, and traditional, that the bottle used represents the varietals and region. In New World wines most winemakers honor their European counterparts by using the bottles that match their varietals. However you will find more variations of bottle sizes and shapes in New World wines.
Wine Bottle Styles
The Bordeaux style bottle is widely used for a variety of grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Sémillon, Sauternes, most Meritage or Bordeaux blends (red wines) and Zinfandel. The bottle may have slightly different diameters but it’s typically straight and tall with square shoulders. The glass color for red wines is generally a dark color, and a light color or clear for whites.
Burgundy bottles are typically used for Pinot Noir, Aligoté and Chardonnay. The Burgundy bottle is typical the same height as the Bordeaux bottle but is wider at the bottom with gently sloped shoulders. Both red and white wines use dark colored glass.
The Rhône bottle is very similar to the Burgundy bottle only slightly thinner and taller. This bottle is used for Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes-du-Rhône. In the U.S. we use it for Shiraz. Again, generally speaking, dark glass is used for reds and clear glass for whites.
Mosel and Alsace or Hock Bottles
This bottle style is used in Germany and Alsace (Northeastern France) for Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau grapes. These bottles are tall and slim with a very long neck. The glass color is generally light green or brown.
Champagne bottle designs are based on technical necessities. They are made of thick glass with gently sloped shoulders and with a deep punt (more on punts later). Because Champagne is carbonated (sparkling wine), the pressure inside the bottle can reach 80 to 90 psi (higher than the pressure in your car tire). This means the bottle has to be heavier than a normal wine bottle to keep it from exploding under the high pressure in the bottle. To keep Champagne in the bottle it also needs a larger and reversed tapered cork (you know the ones…this style of cork can be a real challenge to get out). About a third of the cork is going to be outside the bottle so you can get a grip on it and open the bottle. It will also give you an idea of how big the cork is overall.
Besides these five main bottles I describe above there are also Rhine (similar to Rhône bottles), Chianti (the ones with a straw basket), Bocksbeutel, Jura, Vin Jaune and the fortified wine bottle (used for Vermouth and Port).
What’s the dent in the bottom of the bottle?
In the bottom of most wine bottles you’ll find a deep indentation (rather than a flat bottom). In English this indentation is called a “Punt.” It isn’t in all bottles. There is no clear consensus on why the punt exists, but there are a number of theories behind its use and origin. I’ll let you be the expert and tell the rest of us which is most likely. Here are some of the reasons and theories on the Punt:
- In the early days of bottle making the glass blowers felt a punt made the bottles sturdier, especially for Champagne bottles.
- It makes the bottle easier to hold or pour from.
- Some feel a punt was designed to catch sediment. I might fall in this camp as it makes the most sense to me. The tapered punt lets the sediment collect in the bottom of the bottle in a tighter more confined space (although most wine is stored on their sides in our cellars). As I have mentioned before, it is recommend that on older bottles of wine, you stand them upright two to three days in advance of opening and decanting the wine. This allows time for the sediment to settle to the bottom of the bottle, around the punt. When the sediment is in this tight area at the bottom, it will not blend (as easily) back in with the wine when you pour the wine.
- Punts help your wine chill quicker. When you stick a bottle in ice, the indentation fills with ice and chills more glass area of the bottle. I am not sure about this reason as mostly white wines, not reds, are chilled in ice (not always the good thing to do either, as they can get to cold and effect the taste of the wine . But Rieslings (Rhône bottles) are typically in flat-bottom bottles.
- If you are a cynic you might think the punt allows the bottle to look bigger than it actually is. Or it makes you believe there is more wine in the bottle than there really is.
There are plenty more to list but they seemed to get sillier as I found them in my research. As I mentioned, you be the judge.
What are the basic parts of a wine bottle?
- Closure – seals the wine; either screwcap or cork.
- Capsule – thin metal wrapping around the closure at the top of the bottle.
- Neck – slender part of the bottle below the capsule.
- Shoulder – sloping part of the bottle between the neck and body; more prominent in Bordeaux bottles.
- Body – wider, cylindrical part of the bottle.
- Label – where key information about the wine is found. Some information is required by law such as Alcohol By Volume (ABV).
- Heel – corner or base on the bottom of the wine bottle.
- Punt – indentation on the underside of the bottle; not present in all bottle types.
We just scratched the surface on the discussion of wine bottles in general. In future articles we’ll examine the other various parts of the wine bottle, closures (corks vs. screwcaps), labels, bottle sizes and so on. These are all interesting topics and something we should all know about as we navigate our way through the wonderful world of wine.
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Until next week. Cheers.