Originally published Jan. 30, 2015
By Andy Perdue, former writer of The Grapevine
WHEN GAZING at a wall of wine at your favorite wine shop, you might begin to wonder why bottles come in different shapes and whether this is by design.
Generally speaking, there are four types of bottles, each for a different kind of wine from a specific region of the Old World.
Bordeaux: Traditionally used in France’s Bordeaux region for varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, sauvignon blanc and semillon, this bottle is distinctive for its high shoulders and narrow profile. You might also notice wines from Italy and Portugal using this type of bottle.
Burgundy/Rhône: These bottles are wider at the bottom than Bordeaux bottles, and they have sloped shoulders. This is traditional in the French regions of Burgundy and the Rhône Valley, so you’ll almost always find pinot noir, chardonnay, syrah and viognier in a Burgundy/Rhône bottle.
Sparkling wine: Sparkling wine bottles are similar in shape to Burgundy/Rhône bottles, but they are thicker by design to hold their integrity with the 90 pounds per square inch of pressure inside from all the bubbles. The indentation on the bottom — known as a “punt” — is important to keep the bottle from bursting (no doubt discovered through trial and error in Champagne).
Hock: These tall, narrow bottles are common in Germany and the Alsace region of France. They typically hold riesling and Gewürztraminer.
For the most part, wineries stick with traditional bottle shapes for their wines, which can make it slightly easier to find them on a crowded shelf. However, it is not unusual to find the occasional pinot noir in a Bordeaux-shaped bottle. In fact, Dick Erath put one of his early Oregon pinot noirs in a tall hock bottle, reportedly because it was less expensive.
Bottles come in various colors, though most red wines will be in brown or dark green glass to protect the wines from damaging sunlight. Clear glass is used for many white wines, particularly sweet wines, including Sauternes. Rosés are bottled in clear glass to show off their beautiful pink color. Sparkling wine often is in green glass. Blue glass is occasionally found in the Northwest, usually with riesling or muscat inside.
Occasionally, you will see other shapes. For example, Italian restaurants might have inexpensive Chianti in a straw-covered bottle called a “fiasco.” Expensive dessert wines, particularly British Columbia ice wines, come in tall bottles that hold half the normal amount of wine. I’ve also seen novelty bottles shaped like violins, fish or even a skull.
You might notice that some wine bottles weigh more than others. A typical full bottle of wine weighs about 3 pounds, but it can surpass 4 pounds. This often is a marketing ploy to lead you to believe a heavy bottle is better and, thus, should be more expensive. A movement has started in recent years to use lighter bottles, which reduce a winery’s carbon footprint, as well as save substantially on shipping costs.