Shapes

Bottle shapes give informed wine lovers an idea of what may be inside the bottle without having to look at the label. These shapes exist because of history and tradition. They are meant to reflect a sense of place and identity in a wine. However, the shape of the bottle is increasingly becoming a way to differentiate one product from another in a highly saturated market and many producers choose the bottle shapes they use based on very different factors and portfolio concerns such as originality, feel and, inevitably, price. The colour of the glass is also used to distinguish between grape varieties and styles of wine. This may not simplify things for us as consumers but it definitely makes a wine display more exciting to explore. Here is a brief list of some of the most common bottle shapes you may fi nd.

Bordeaux (a.k.a. Claret)

Probably the most widely used, recognizable and wine-associated bottle silhouette is that of Bordeaux. It is commonly used for two of the world’s most noble and widely planted varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In Bordeaux, the dry reds are associated with this bottle shape and dark green glass. Lighter green is used for the dry whites (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) and clear glass is used for the sweet whites (Sauternes and Barsac). This bottle shape is widely used across the world with small modifications and you may easily associate it with modern Chianti as well.

2. Burgundy

The Burgundy bottle was conceived before that of Bordeaux, in the nineteenth century. Naturally, this bottle shape is also associated with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the New World but as this bottle shape travelled the world, the focus of its meaning for other regions became the style of the wine. Therefore, this shape is also used for red wines with light but complex profile such as wines produced from Nebbiolo or Gamay as well as whites that have been fermented and/or aged in oak.

3. Mosel (a.k.a. Alsace, Hock, Rhine, Riesling, Schlegel)

This taller and narrower bottle shape was designed to store Riesling and it was used for both the dry and the sweet wines. In Germany, they used green glass for wines from the Mosel and thinner, brown glass for those coming from the Rhine region. Alsace in France is also associated with this shape in brown glass. This bottle shape is widely used for other varieties such as Gewürztraminer in Germany and beyond.

4. Côtes de Provence

Although it is difficult to justify a spot for rosé in a classic wine bottle lineup, this curvaceous clear glass standout should not go unnoticed. Many producers use this or a variation of this bottle focusing on the curves, while others avoid it altogether. It is important to note that while some bottle shapes are based on history and tradition, others are taking a stand in history right now and are being influenced by fashion (and marketing) as we speak (and drink). Making a statement about how deserving this bottle shape is of being in the picture is equal to deciding if rosé should share a table with the great wines of the world.

5. Champagne (and other sparkling wines)

The shape of the Champagne bottle is a design based on functionality as much as form. Since the pressure inside the bottle is very high (about 90 psi or 620 kilopascals if you really want to know), the glass needs to be thick and strong, plus the cork and its cage are an inseparable part of the design. Usually, the colour of the glass is olive to dark green. Other sparkling wines such as Cava and Prosecco typically have slightly different bottle shapes.

6. Port (and other fortified wines)

Port bottles are very sturdy since they were designed to travel long distances. The bulge in the neck of the bottle is meant to prevent the sediment from being poured into the glass but opening and decanting a bottle of vintage Port without disturbing the sediment may require a lot of experience. If the wines are meant to be drunk young, they are usually sealed with a cork stopper while those meant for aging are sealed with a long cork. Madeira and Sherry often come in bottles of similar shape.

Sizes

Bottle sizes have names but to remember them you will need to review your biblical rulers and pray that you spell them correctly. Different bottle sizes influence the way wine ages in them. Larger bottles allow for slower aging, therefore, it is very interesting to compare the same vintage in a Standard and a Magnum bottle and observe the difference. While Magnum bottles of various wines are easy to come by, the larger bottle sizes are relatively rare.

1. Piccolo – 187 ml (or 1/4 bottle)

2. Chopine – 250 ml (or 1/3 bottle)

3. Fillette (or Half Bottle, Demi, Split) - 375 ml(or 1/2 bottle)

4. Bouteille (or Standard Bottle) – 750 ml (or 1 bottle)

5. Magnum – 1.5 liters (or 2 bottles)

6. Jeroboam (or Double Magnum) – 3 liters (or 4 bottles)

7. Rehoboam – 4.5 liters (or 6 bottles)

8. Methuselah (or Imperial) – 6 liters (or 8 bottles)

9. Salmanazar – 9 liters (or 12 bottles)

10. Balthazar (or Belshazzar) – 12 литра (or 16 bottles)

11. Nebuchadnezzar – 15 liters (or 20 bottles)

12. Solomon (or Melchior) – 18 liters (or 24 bottles)

Still, the sky is the limit with wine and you can go further on your journey of becoming a massive wine lover of Champagne with these bottles: Sovereign – 25 liters (or 33.3 bottles), Primat (or Goliath) – 27 liters (or 36 bottles) and Melchizedek (or Midas) – 30 liters (or 40 bottles).

There are nuances to the shapes of some of these bottles too. For example, the Methuselah and Imperial bottles are of the same size but the former is Burgundy-shaped and usually used for Champagne while the latter is Bordeaux-shaped. The same applies to the Solomon and Melchior bottles accordingly. The sizes traditionally meant for Champagne are naturally shaped like Champagne bottles (the illustration is meant to provide an idea of the different proportions of these bottles but not the shapes in which they are available). Now that you know more about the most common shapes and sizes of wine bottles, you are equipped to explore the outliers and discover bottles such as that of the Jura and Vin Jaune

Elena Neykova