Wine bottles are a glorious thing for the mere fact that they allow wine to be transported all over the world. Today, we’re paying homage to the humble glass bottle and exploring the basic shapes and styles that house your favorite wines.
A Little History
At a point in history, before glass bottles became the standard for storing and transporting liquids, wine was actually kept in large clay pots called "amphorae." After amphorae came the barrel, which was great for ferrying large quantities of wine, but not exactly ideal for the dinner table. While the use of glass dates to well before ancient Roman times, the Romans began experimenting with glass blowing and were able to produce some of the earliest wine bottles. These glass vessels were far too fragile to be used for anything aside from decoration, due to their delicate nature and varying sizes and shapes. With the invention of coal-burning furnaces, glass workers were able to produce bottles made with thicker glass, resulting in more consistency and the standard shapes we know and love.
The Burgundy Bottle
The Burgundy bottle is somewhat pear-shaped with a wide base and sloping shoulders. This was an easy style to reproduce and became one of the first to be standardized. This bottle was originally designed to hold the Burgundy grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, though today, a variety of wines will use this format - including Syrah, Grenache, lighter reds, and oaked whites, among others. Some regions, like the Rhône Valley’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape, use a slight variation of this style with an embossed logo of this famed appellation.
The Bordeaux Bottle
The Bordeaux bottle is probably the most common type used today. It differs from the Burgundy bottle in that it is tall and straight with defined shoulders. This bottle shape houses all Bordeaux wines, as well as a vast majority of other grape varieties and wine styles. There is a theory that the shoulder of this bottle is meant to catch sediment of age-worthy wines resting on their sides, but has been debated.
The Alsatian Flute
This bottle looks like a taller, more slender version of the Burgundy, with sloping shoulders, a thin frame, and a long neck. Because it is more delicate, it generally doesn’t have a punt (the indentation at the base of many wine bottles). This style is referred to as a “flute” and is the required bottle of Alsace, France. German producers (as well as others around the world) will often use this shape for Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, and other aromatic varieties.
The Champagne Bottle
Champagne and other sparkling wines come in bottles reminiscent of the Burgundy shape, with sloping shoulders and an even wider base. The main difference, however, is the weight and thickness of the glass - sparkling wine bottles are particularly heavy and durable. This extra stability is meant to prevent an explosion from the built-up pressure inside - particularly from wines produced in the Champagne method, where a second fermentation happens directly in the bottle itself.
So Many Others and Practically No Rules!
There are endless bottle shapes out there, as well as variations on the basics listed above. These days, while many producers and winemakers use specific styles for the sake of Old World customs, marketing dictates more than you’d think! Aside from specific places like Alsace that require the use of the flute, rules are fairly lax, particularly in the New World, which isn’t quite as steeped in tradition. Winemakers are free to bottle their wine in almost any way they chose.