What’s In A Bottle: The evolution of wine receptacles

With its curvy shape, sleek long neck and rounded butt, a wine bottle kind of looks like a voluptuous Marilyn Monroe. But there’s more than meets the eye — there’s utility. Starting in the 17th century, people began storing wine in glass bottles and using cork as a stopper. Before that, everything from animal skins to ceramic jugs housed the people’s favorite beverage. After years of trying to establish uniform bottle size, capacity and shape, wine producers agreed on a tall, cylindrical shape for easy stackability during transportation. Sideways storage also helped keep the cork moist to prevent leakage.

By the mid-18th century, different wine regions invented signature-style bottles to mark their wine-growing territory, as well as to adjust for needs according to the regions’ grapes. In the United States and around the world, wineries still use these bottle styles, bottling according to the originating grapes in the wine. For instance, because the Riesling grape comes from Germany, a Washington state Riesling comes in a tall, thin German-style bottle known as a “flute.” Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, all grapes derived from the Bordeaux region of France, come bottled in containers with wide, stern shoulders. The bottles were designed this way because these wines, after several years of aging, can generate sediment and the shoulders trap some of the gunk before it flows into your glass.

Burgundy-type bottles, which all Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs come in, have a shapelier, tapered neck since the Burgundian founding fathers didn’t seem to think they needed a trap for the dregs. Rhone varietals, such as Syrah and Viognier, also use the Burgundy-shape bottle.

For Champagne, wineries want a thicker, heavier container to battle the tremendous pressure of carbon dioxide inside. The deep, concave indentation in the bottle’s butt is called a “punt.” The punt works to diffuse pressure and helps balance the gas as well. Normal wine bottles don’t really need the punt for any special reason, but fine wine producers keep the deep dent for tradition. Punts date back to when glass blowers produced bottles by hand, using a wooden stick to hold the glass from the neck end. After forming the bottle, the glass blower would pull out the stick, creating the punched-in bottom.

Then there’s bottle color. Like beer bottles, wine bottles are often colored glass — especially those meant for aging to prevent light from spoiling the wine inside. Bordeaux red wines are always in green glass, whereas the whites from this region have clear bottles. Burgundy has its signature green as well, but the area is not quite as stringent as Bordeaux. The Germans, often the contrarians, use brown glass for wines from the Rhine region and green from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region.

Of course, there are always the other fun, nontraditional bottle colors, such as bright blue, orange and red. Those producers are trying to get your attention — and it often works.

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