WORLD OF WINE: Wine bottle shapes communicate quality and content

When in the Burgundy or Bordeaux regions of France, the bottles of wine from those particular regions have distinct shapes. The high-shouldered Bordeaux bottle (also called the Claret) communicates the Bordeaux wines that make up the blend. The same goes for the sloped-shouldered Burgundy bottle.

If it is a red wine in the bottle, it is pinot noir, a white wine, chardonnay. The bottles from the Rhine regions of Germany in their tapered, flute-like form will be a white wine such as riesling or gewürztraminer.

Most wines of the world will end up in one of these three bottle shapes.

Glass bottles go back to when Roman artisans blew them into assorted shapes, that really were too delicate for shipping wine or storing it.  A wood-burning fire is no match for coal-burning furnaces which came about in the 17th century, which resulted in thicker, stronger and darker glass that had been previously impossible to produce.

Given the standardization of bottle openings and the wholesale use of cork to seal them, we have a container that will allow for storing and handling wine more resistant to breakage.

Looking closely at bottles, you may notice there are some that flat on the bottom, while others will have a deep indentation known as a “punt.”

When I quiz my students about what the function of that punt may be, the answers range from “a place to put the thumb when pouring,” to “to make the bottle more stable when sitting on a flat table,” to “to strengthen the bottle.”

In reality, it could be all of these answers and more, with the perception being it adds quality to the wine within. We naturally associate the bottle without the punt to be found on cheaper wine brands. The exception would be the fluted white wines from Germany, which never have a punt.

Notice with cheaper wines the presence of visible seams. Quality wines are in bottles that are nearly or completely seamless. This indicates better glass quality and bottle-making efforts by the manufacturer. Materials used in making these bottles — silica sand, sodium bicarbonate and limestone — are the purest available, and heated to 2,700 degrees F or higher.

Bottle color is both a functional and aesthetic part of marketing. Clear glass bottles show off the color of white zinfandel, or some rosés, while the Rhine bottles of riesling will typically have brown glass. The most common and classic antique green color of most bottles is intended to protect the wine from sunlight.

There are rumors that winemakers could try to save weight and shipping costs by using lighter and stronger glass bottles, but that move would have difficulty gaining traction with consumers, especially with Champagne and other sparkling wines. The heavier weight supports perceptions of high-quality wine.

For show, handling and storage, let alone uncorking, nothing will replace the bottle in the foreseeable future.

Ron Smith, a retired NDSU Extension horticulturist, writes weekly about his love of wine and its history. Readers can reach him at tuftruck1@gmail.com.

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