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Know Your Wine Bottle

Posted by on August 18th

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Wine bottles are based on centuries of traditions. The wine trade is deeply beholden to those traditions. Even the largest multinational wine corporation (talking to you, Gallo) won’t mess this those cultural norms. In fact, the shape of the wine bottle is the only thing that the entire world of wine agrees on.

Sommelier holding wine bottle and wine glasses

Did you know that the shape of a wine bottle tells you more than the art on the wine label? Even the color of the bottle can tell you a wealth of information about the wine inside.

Call it superstition or respect for history, every winery insists on conforming to a few basic bottle shape rules. This is important since the very same wineries don’t have any compunction on borderline fraud on their wine labels.

Wine Bottle Shapes

Wine Bottles are named after the wine regions that made them famous. Four are French wine regions, and one is German. Bottle shapes are a quick and easy shorthand for the style of wine in the bottle.

Burgundy Bottle

Burgundy Wine Bottle

Red Wines

Three major red grapes use this type of bottle: Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Syrah. A blend of Grenache and Syrah will also use this bottle style. However, no Pinot blend would ever be in one of these bottles: only a monster who eats small happy children would ever blend Pinot Noir: that’s one of the biggest taboos in the wine trade.

Waist up portrait of female sommelier holding wine bottle during tasting session in restaurant, copy space

White Wines

Only a few white wines will be found in this type of bottle. Those include Chardonnay, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. While Chardonnay tends to be bottled as a single varietal, the others are often blended.

As a rule, winemakers use these bottles for heavier white wines, often ongoing malolactic fermentation, barrel aging, and lees stirring.

The Big Why

The term “Burgundy” refers to Burgundy, France. The region produces two varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The other classic wine region that uses this type of bottle is the Rhone Valley. Those wines are Syrah and Grenache for reds (along with a dozen others) and Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne (and a dozen others). In Burgundy, no one blends grapes. In the Rhone, pretty much everyone blends.

When bottling wines outside the classic Rhone and Burgundy varietals, a winemaker will use this bottle shape for wines she believes are nuanced and elegant.

Reisling Bottle

Riesling Wine Bottle

White Wines

This bottle is famous for Riesling, and deservedly so. If you delve into wine geekery, you may hear this bottle called a “Hock,” an Old English term for German riesling. However, any white wine from Germany can use this bottle. That includes Gewurztraminer. Scheurebe, and Pinot Blanc. In France, wines from Alsace also use this wine bottle.

Red Wines

This bottle is mostly used for white wines, except in Alsace. In this French wine region, even Pinot Noir is sold in these slender fluted bottles.

Riesling bottling

Color Codes in Germany

Wines from the Rhine valley (Mittelrhein, Rheingau, Nahe, and Rheinhessen) are traditionally bottled in brown glass, Bottles from the Mosel are typically green. Before the 1920s, Mosel wines were blue.

Bordeaux Bottle

Bordeaux Wine Bottle

Red Wines

Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc are traditionally found in Bordeaux bottles. Actually, and wine grape genetically related to Cabernet will be found in this type of bottle. That includes grapes such as Malbec and Carmenere.

White Wines

Sommelier opening wine bottle

Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are the traditional white grapes in this style of bottle. This bottle is the defacto bottle for most dry, crisp white wines. If a wine is going to be buttery and oaky, the winery tends to offer them in a Burgundy bottle.

The Big Why

Bordeaux is the French wine region made famous for its red blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. It’s also known for its white wines, which are blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion.

Over time, this bottle has become the default for most dry red wines. Everything from Zinfandel to Nebbiolo will often be sold in this broad-shouldered style bottle. This is the defacto red wine bottle. When winemakers opt to use another bottle style, it’s often intended as a big statement.

Another way that winemakers can make a big statement is to use heavier Bordeaux-style bottles. The intended implication is that the heavier the bottle, the more luxurious the wine. Of course, using heavier glass adds to the cost of the wine, and it’s become something of a marketing gimmick at this point.

Champagne Bottle

Champagne Wine Bottle

Sparkling Wines

These bottles are exclusively made for sparkling wines. The thickness of the glass and the tapered design is utilitarian: it helps prevent breakage.

Back in the olden days –the 18th Century– champagne bottles had a nasty habit of shattering. A significant amount of CO2 is dissolved in sparkling wines; the amount of pressure is far more than in a car tire.

Modern Champagne bottles are designed specifically to withhold that amount of pressure. If you find a bottle of bubbles that isn’t in a Champagne bottle, it is most likely only lightly carbonated.

Elegant expirienced wine sommelier is choosing right wine for tasting at wine cellar.

Wine Bottle Sizes

There are several sizes of wine bottles as well. While many publications and wine schools make a big deal about this, don’t spend too much time on this issue. Most of these are artifacts of long-gone eras and have little to no value in the modern world of wine.

Split (AKa Piccolo)

This is a tiny bottle that is often plastic and as cheap as its contents. 187.5 ml of pure junk.

Half (AKA Demi)

Half bottles were popular in the ’90s but of little consequence these days. 375 ml.

Half-liter

A favorite bottle size for discount sweet wines is found at the bottom of the refrigerator at your local truck stop. 500 ml.

Wine background. Bottles of red and white wine. On a rustic background.
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Standard

This 750-milliliter wine bottle is really the only type that makes sense to purchase. This is because the entire distribution, import, and production economy are based on this size. Any other size will cost more to transport, bottle, and store.

Liter

We are learning our metric system! One liter is typically for a bottle of wine you plan on drinking by yourself in the weed-choked parking lot of a bankrupt shopping mall.

Magnum

The start of the pretentious bottle sizes. There are arguments made that wines in magnum bottles age better, but that is not true. These bottles are usually filled using two regular bottles and manually corked. These wines are only for show. Buy a Magnum if you value showing off more than drinking. 1.5 Liters.

Pretentious Wine Bottle Sizes

Are you a total asshole? Then these are the bottle sizes you should buy.

Wine Bottle Sizes
This Cheval Blanc 1947 Methuselah is your’s for only $304,375.!
  • Jeroboam (AKA Double Magnum) 3 Liters
  • Rehoboam (AKA Jeroboam) 4.5 Liters
  • Methuselah (AKA Imperial) 6 Liters
  • Salmanazar 9 Liters
  • Balthazar 12 Liters
  • Nebuchadnezzar 15 Liters
  • Melchior 18 Liters
  • Solomon 20 Liters
  • Sovereign 26 Liters
  • Primat (AKA Goliath) 27 Liters
  • Melchizedek (AKA Midas) 30 Liters

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