Wine bottles come in many shapes and sizes. When you’re at the wine shop looking for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, naturally you scan the shelves to find the clear bottles of white wine. What you might not realize is that you are also looking for a certain type of bottle. Each wine varietal can be identified by the shape of its bottle.
There are at least 12 different wine bottle shapes, each particular to a varietal and its origin. These bottle types originated back in 18th century Europe. Each wine-making region was identified by its own distinctive type of bottle. Today these bottle shapes are used for wines from around the world and have nothing to do with the original European regions. But tradition reigns on.
When we talk about the shape of a bottle, we refer to its neck, shoulders, and body—slender or squat, sloped shoulders or square. The shape doesn’t affect the quality or flavor of wine. Although the shape may have played a role in catching sediment of unfiltered wines of the past.
Glass color varies too. The bottle may be dark or light, usually with dark green glass for reds and clear or light glass for whites. The punt is what you call the dimple in the bottom of the bottle. It is a vestige of old-world bottles whose glass was blown by hand. The history is unclear, but one thing is agreed upon, the punt is for decoration only today. Some think that a punt denotes quality and that flat-bottomed bottles are just for the cheap labels, but that’s only a myth. Chances are that the punt was more practical than aesthetic, helping to keep imperfect bottles upright.
In California, we’re most familiar with three main bottle shapes:
The typical Bourdeaux bottle is straight and tall with squared-off shoulders. You’ll find it used for Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Similar to Bourdeaux but with sloping shoulders and a bit fatter bottom, this familiar shape is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Mosel or Alsace (Germany and northern France)
Rieslings and Gewurtztraminers will be found is this distinctly tall, slender bottle with a very long neck and no shoulders.
And, of course, size matters. Bring a split to enjoy with your sandwich or break out a magnum for a special dinner at your home with friends. Large wine bottles are unexpected and announce celebration.
But bottle size also influences the flavor of wine. The neck is small, no matter how much wine the bottle holds. This means that the effect of the oxygen in the neck of the bottle will be less on a larger volume of wine. The bigger the bottle, the slower it ages—and the longer it keeps. That’s one reason you typically find a few large-format bottles in a serious wine lover’s collection.
Don’t think by buying volume you’re getting more for your buck. Just the opposite. Large bottles cost more. They’re snazzy and fun, but you’ll want to be sure you will be able to drink it all once it’s opened.
|Piccolo or split||¼ bottle||187.5 mL|
|Demi or half||½ bottle||375 mL|
|Standard||1 bottle||750 mL|
|Magnum||2 bottles||1.5 L|
|Jeroboam||4 bottles||3 L|
|Methuselah or Imperial||8 bottles||6 L|
|Salmanazar||12 bottles||9 L|
|Balthazar||16 bottles||12 L|
|Nabuchadnezzar||20 bottles||15 L|