Just as wines come in innumerable varieties - so do the bottles that hold them. Have you ever wondered why some have a subtle slope while others have a distinct shape below the neck (called the shoulders)? Or maybe you grab your wine of choice without a second thought - which is fair. There are a few reasons for the differences, sometimes it’s as simple as an aesthetic choice or to differentiate a wine from a neighboring rival region, as it is for Bordeaux versus Burgundy wines. But there are also reasons that affect the wine, such as shapes that keep sediment in the bottle rather than in your wine glass - often with wines that have been through more aging. Aside from the very unique shapes (you know, those weird cat ones and the like) we’ll take a look at some of the common wine bottles you’ve seen and explain why they are the way they are.
One of the most common bottles dates back to the 19th century, with a soft slope rather than pronounced shoulders (as seen in the Bordeaux). It is typically a little wider and was likely made this way simply because the design was easier for glassmakers. The indent, or punt, at the bottom of the bottle was formed for a few reasons: to hold during production, to give the bottle extra stability, and to catch sediment. This style holds both red and white wines of the Burgundy region and can be a good way of knowing the white was oak aged.
Typically holds: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, Burgundy
Shortly after the Burgundy bottles were created, came the Bordeaux. The reasons for the pronounced shoulders of the bottle are twofold; these regions needed bottles that would set their wines apart from one another and the shoulders of the Bordeaux help to catch the sediment that could accumulate in aged wines. This bottle is also referred to as “claret” style and often features a punted bottom that provides another way of catching sediment.
Typically holds: Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Bordeaux
Alsace Wine Bottles
Moving away from the French regions, this style is also known as a Germanic or Mosel bottle. It has subtle, sloped shoulders and is both taller and thinner than other bottles - sometimes exaggerated enough to look like a long baseball bat of wine. The shape is more delicate and slender, likely to fit as many as possible inside smaller ship hulls sailing down the Rhine - a more gentle voyage then on high seas (as the French wines had to endure). The glass of these bottles is another differentiator - often brown for French Riesling and green for German Riesling.
Typically holds: Riesling, Gewürztraminer
The shape itself isn’t too unique on this one, but a few features stand out. The glass is made thicker than other wine bottles so that it can withstand the high pressure of the carbonation. You may find these in clear glass, but green protects older vintages from sun damage. The top neck of the bottle has a pronounced ring, to better hold the wire hood found on sparkling bottles.
Typically holds: Champagne as well as other sparkling wines
Port Wine Bottles
Resembling a Bordeaux bottle with high, elegant shoulders, this style traditionally has a ‘bulb’ in the neck - another feature that traps sediment of aged wine during pouring. This also helps to open up the wine during the decanting process.
Typically holds: Port, Sherry, and other fortified wines
These tall, thin bottles hold ice wines and other types of dessert wines, often pricier than other styles. The grapes at the end of the season freeze on the vine and lend to a sweetness balanced by high acidity. As there are less grape-growing regions able to reach these temperatures, there are relatively small amounts made worldwide - with Canada and Germany leading in production. This exclusivity lends to the higher price and smaller bottles, which hold half the volume of a typical wine bottle and is then poured into smaller glasses typical of dessert wines.
Typically holds: Both red and white dessert wines
Chianti Wine Bottles
Not quite as common as other bottles, this one needs mentioning as it is one of the most unique styles. Wines of the Chianti region of Tuscany date back to the Italian Renaissance and were held in exaggerated pear-shaped squat bottles with a flat bottom, held in a straw basket called a fiasco. The blanched straw not only held bottles up straight, but also added protection during shipping. The bright Sangiovese grape wines are now typically found in more standard wine bottles, but the classic Chianti style can still be found in its original rustic form.
Typically holds: Chianti and other Sangiovese grape wines
Honorable Mention: Boxed Wine
Boxed wine gets a bad rap for not looking as fancy as bottled wine, but it does have plenty of benefits. And it isn’t just limited to Franzia anymore. Plenty of wines now come in this sturdy, portable style. You get more wine for your money and more time to enjoy it - typically 4-6 weeks - with no air getting into the bag and oxidizing your wine. Despite the plastic, it’s also better for the environment; less energy to produce, easier to recycle, and produced and ships for a cheaper price than glass bottles.
When bottling your own wine, choosing a different bottle won’t make it taste terrible - these subtle differences only help a wine age and taste as best as possible. The only wine that really should be bottled in the correct bottle is any sparkling wine, so you don’t end up with broken glass all over your cellar. Your Riesling in a Bordeaux bottle or Merlot in a Burgundy bottle will still turn out to be a welcome addition to your next meal, as long as you pour it in the right style of wine glass - but that’s a topic for another day.