Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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  Corkscrew Issue 5, February 2003   
BottleBottle  Contents 
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Bottle

The container used to keep and transport the nectar of Bacchus reveals secrets and shapes which tell the traditions and the history of the people who produce wine

 At the end of the wine making process, the work of the producer, the skill and the talent of the wine maker, the soul and the essence of the lands where the grape comes from, are realized in the beverage of Bacchus, wine, which is sealed in a glass container and entrusted to its destiny, often it begins a journey towards distant places from the area of origin, often, as it gets to destination, is kept in a quiet room in the hope it will improve with time and become nobler. All this is realized by that object which is a trusted and loyal mate of the wine since few centuries: bottle.

 The problem of storing wine in a container capable of keeping its characteristics as sound as possible, as well as allowing a practical transportation for obvious commercial reasons, is a need which have always been part of the wine making process. The most modern solution, whose origin is as ancient as few centuries ago, is the bottle of glass and, despite of its apparent fragility and its reliable solidity, has proved to be a reliable container, including other essential environmental factors, ideal for the keeping and the aging of wine.


 

 The first practical examples of containers suited for the transportation of wine were amphoras, containers usually made of earthenware of stretched shape and having two handles, and they were commonly used in ancient times by Etruscans, Greeks and Romans. The huge number of amphoras found in the many European countries prove these containers were widely and extensively used for the transportation of wine, moreover, they witnesses trade of wine was a very important and relevant aspect of the economy of that time. Amphoras usually had a large body which narrowed to the top in order to form a neck with a narrow opening and two handles were also found in the neck. As the amphoras were filled with wine, they were closed with a plug, usually made of wood, cork or clay, and subsequently sealed with mortar. It seems the first ones to use corks in amphoras were Etruscans. As Amphoras were pretty porous, they usually were completely coated with resin of pine in order to seal them better.

 Another container which was invented and intended for the transportation of wine, and subsequently used as a cellar tool, was cask, probably invented in the area of Bordeaux, which allowed the transportation of huge quantities of wine as well as ensuring a good level of keeping, at least as long as wine was not drew from the cask, a condition which favored oxygen to enter the cask and therefore the oxidation of its content.

 Earthenware containers were used both for the service and the transportation of wine until the seventeenth century, when the industry of glass improved its production technologies and glass became available in large commercial quantities, mainly sold in shape of bottles. The first bottles of glass had shapes very different from the ones we currently use, they were rather short and large; this kind of shape does not suggest they considered the possibility of keeping wine in a laid bottle. The shape of the bottles of those times looked like “onions” or “bladders”, rather than having the typical shapes of modern bottles. Squat, large and short shapes with short and conical necks also suggested an impractical and difficult usage during the service of wine. The transparency of the glass of those times was not perfect and it usually had impurities and more or less intense “greenish” colors which indirectly were beneficial to the keeping of wine and sheltered it from the effect of sunlight.

 In the course of time, shapes of bottles radically changed, progressively losing short and large shapes and having more and more slender and narrow shapes. These new productive styles gave wine lovers the possibility to discover a fundamental factor for the keeping of wine: laying a bottle on its side allowed, not only to keep the content for a longer time, but also and above all, to improve the taste and the aromas of wine. A fundamental factor which drastically changed the trade and the economic value of wine. Keeping a bottle laid on its side allowed the cork to be moistened, therefore this prevented the cork to shrink as well as the oxidation of wine, a fundamental and well known condition for a proper keeping and aging of wine in bottle. Keeping a bottle laid on its side also allowed a better and simpler storage of bottles in cellars while greatly optimizing the use of space.

 Shape of bottles also evolved according to the traditions and customs of the people which made them, most of bottles, despite the fact they are widely spread all over the world, still have the name of their area of origin.

 

Shapes and Dimensions

 Shape of modern bottles, in case we do not consider the ones traditionally used for certain wines in specific and limited areas, is tall and slender. Bottles are shaped in order to give them particular physical characteristics suited to storage and service of wine. Every bottle is made of the following parts: base, body, shoulder and neck.

 Base, besides having the evident function of allowing the bottles to remain in vertical position, is often modeled in rather hollow shapes, a characteristic which is not present in every kind of bottle. The reason of this “indentation” is probably because of production and historical reasons. When the bottles were built by blowing a mass of incandescent glass and without using any mould, the part which was intended to be the base assumed a round shape and this would not allowed the bottle to stay in a vertical position. This rounded part was therefore pushed inside the bottle, of course when the glass was still sufficiently warm and could be modeled, in order to make the bottle's base. This indentation, which is still present in many kinds of bottles, also has a useful function in the aging of wine, in particular for those wines which produce sediments. Because of its shape, when the bottle is kept in vertical position, wine's sediments will deposit to the base, disposing along the ring formed by the indentation, instead of being spread on the whole surface of the base in case the bottle does not have any indentation. The concentration of sediments in a such tiny area will make things easier during the operation of decanting and therefore greatly avoiding the sediments to get suspended in the wine and altering the aspect.

 Body, which constitutes the most extensive part of the bottle, goes from the base to the shoulder, that is the part which narrows in a more or less accentuated way in order to form the neck. The shape of a bottle's shoulders play an important role during the pouring of a wine as well as for decanting. Accentuated shoulders, such as the ones of the Bordeaux bottle (see figure ), offer an efficient barrier to any possible wine sediment produced during aging. As the wine is poured in a glass or in a carafe, sediments will be held back by shoulders while allowing a better control of the decanting process. For this reason, wines which usually tend to produce a more or less abundant sediment, are bottled in bottles having accentuated shoulders, such as the Bordeaux style, whereas white wines, which usually are not aged in bottle and therefore do not produce any sediment, or however red wines which produce a limited quantity of sediment, are bottled in bottles with sloped shoulders, sometimes in bottles having no shoulders, such as the Bourgogne style, also used for red wines, or the Flute, exclusively used for white wines. (see figure )


Styles of bottles. From left to right:
Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Flute, Champagne, Albeisa
Styles of bottles. From left to right: Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Flute, Champagne, Albeisa

 The neck is the narrower part of the bottles in which it is found the opening that allows the wine to be poured. Near the opening there is a protruding ring which is simply called “ring”. The presence of this ring is because of historical reasons as it was used to anchor the cork to the bottle by means of strings or metallic wires, as well as offering a better grip to sealing-wax used to seal bottles. The fundamental function of this ring can be still observed in every bottle of sparkling wine: the wire cage, which holds the cork by preventing its expulsion because of internal pressure, is tightly anchored to this robust ring of glass.

 The shape of bottles is mainly dependent by the traditions of the places where they have been produced and some of them are practically spread all over the world and widely used for the bottling of wine. The following list includes the bottles which are commonly used for bottling wine as well as some bottles which are commonly used for particular wines produced in specific areas.

 

  • Bordeaux Originating from the Bordeaux area, this bottle has a cylindrical shape, very accentuated shoulders and a short neck, it is one of the most used bottle in the world for the bottling of wine, both white and red. It can be colorless for white wines, mainly in the Bordeaux area, whereas it has green or brown colors for red wines as well as for white wines.
  • Bourgogne This bottle, originating from Bourgogne, has a cylindrical shape, sloped shoulders and long neck, is mainly used in the world for white wines. In Bourgogne is used both for white wines and for red wines.
  • Flute or Rhine or Alsace This kind of bottle is originating from the Rhine and Alsace areas and is used for white wines. The slender shape, with no shoulders and no indentation on the base, suggests the use for white wines which do not produce sediment and that should be consumed in a short period of time.
  • Champagne Originating from the Champagne area, this bottle is used everywhere in the world for the bottling of sparkling wines. The shape is pretty similar to the Bourgogne bottle, however Champagne bottle has a thicker glass and a protruded ring in order to allow the anchorage of the wire cage.
  • Albeisa is the typical bottle from the area of Alba and traditionally used for the bottling of both white wines and red wines in the province of Cuneo (Italy). Has a cylindrical shape, slope shoulders and long neck and its shape resembles the one of Bourgogne.
  • Marsala Has a cylindrical shape, accentuated shoulder and a slightly swollen neck. This bottle, which is common in the Marsala area, is used for the bottling of the renowned fortified wine having the same name of the bottle.
  • Porto This bottle is used for the bottling of Porto wine. Bottles having a similar shape are also used for the bottling of the renowned wines of Jerez (Sherry) and Madeira. Its shape is cylindrical, not much tall, and has accentuated shoulders.
  • Hungarian This bottle, having a cylindrical shape and colorless glass, is used for the bottling of the famous Hungarian wine Tokaji Aszú. Has a capacity of 0,500 liters (16.0 fl.oz.)
  • Bocksbeutel Originating from Franken (Germany), this bottle looks like a flatten flask and is used for the bottling of any wine coming from that area

 The shapes of the above bottles are depicted in figures.


Styles of bottles. From left to right:
Marsala, Porto, Hungarian, Bocksbeutel
Styles of bottles. From left to right: Marsala, Porto, Hungarian, Bocksbeutel

 The typical volume of a regular bottle of wine is 0.750 liters (25.3 fl.oz.) and this capacity is simply defined as “one bottle”. The size and volume of bottles vary according of this capacity, assuming multiples or fraction of this measure. The many dimensions of bottle are identified with specific names instead of the measure of their capacity. Table shows the names and volumes of the many bottle sizes which are currently used for still wines and for sparkling wines. Names chosen for Champagne bottles (therefore for sparkling wine bottles) of large size are the ones of some kings of the great middle-eastern civilizations of the past. The reason of this choice was because of some Champagne merchants that, at the end of the nineteenth century, realized this wine was mainly consumed in occasion of holidays and important moments of celebration, decided to associate to large bottle sizes the names of great kings of the ancient civilizations of the middle-east in order to associate the use and the consumption of this sizes in occasion of important and significant moments. Large sizes have always been of interest among wine lovers as well as among wine collectors. However, it should be noted sparkling wines contained in bottles having a volume greater than 3 liters (6.34 pints), that is greater than the Jéroboam size, did not probably have the secondary fermentation, typical in the classic method, in that very bottle. Often bottles of large size are filled with the content of smaller bottles at the end of the sparkling wine making process.

 

Color and Keeping

 One of the factors which allows a good keeping of wine is sheltering from light. Color of the bottle therefore represents a very important factor which allows to prolong wine's life in the course of aging. Bottles of glass having more or less dark colors can offer a good protection against the effects of light and prevent, in a significant way, negative effects it usually has on wine. However it is believed color of bottles is in fact a consequence of the working methodologies of the past, when the production of glass got colors tending to green and sometimes to brown because of the non perfect purity of the raw materials used for the production.


VolumeStill winesSparkling
0.187 l (¼ bottle)quart or splitquart or split
0.375 l (½ bottle)half or demihalf or demi
0.75 l (1 bottle)regularregular
1.5 l (2 bottles)magnummagnum
2.25 l (3 bottles)Marie-Jeanne--
3 l (4 bottles)double magnumJéroboam
4.5 l (6 bottles)--Rehoboam (1)
5 lJéroboam--
6 l (8 bottles)ImpérialeMethuselah
9 l (12 bottles)--Salmanazar
12 l (16 bottles)--Balthazar
15 l (20 bottles)--Nebuchadnezzar

(1) The Réhoboam is no longer made

Sizes and volumes of wine bottles

 The color of the bottle is also a traditional characteristic of certain areas. The flute bottle, for examples, usually has a green color in Alsace whereas in the Rhine area has a brown color. Another example is offered by the Bordeaux bottle. For the bottling of white wines is preferred a colorless type, whereas for red wines is used a bottle of green or brown color instead. Another color which is strictly connected to a particular area is the so called “dead-leaf”, a greenish-yellow color typical in many Bourgogne bottles which is also common in other parts of the world. Despite the many reasons, either traditional or productive, which determine the color of the bottles' glass, it is always preferable using those having dark colors, particularly for those wines which are destined for a period of aging in bottle. It seems to be pretty funny the habits of some producers, even though it depends by historical and traditional reasons, to use colorless bottles for white wines. This specific kind of wine needs, more than any other else, a proper protection against the effects of light and using this bottle seems to be inadequate. It should be however noted white wines are not usually suited for bottle aging and this habit is probably to be intended as an explicit suggestion from producers to drink the wine as soon as possible.

 Even bottle size plays a determinant role in the preservability of a wine as well as in the development of those process typical in the aging of wine. In bottles having small sizes, such as the half bottle or the quart, wine ages more rapidly and are not suited for the aging of wine. The reason for this accelerated aging depends on the greater quantity of oxygen compared to the quantity of wine contained in the bottle, therefore the process of oxidation will be faster. Conditions get better in case the capacity of the bottle is increased and therefore the quantity of oxygen will be lesser if compared to the quantity of wine. For this reason wine kept in bottles of large size ages slowly and allow a better development of the organoleptic qualities of wine.

 Another determinant factor for the keeping of wine in the bottles is the so called “ullage”, that is the level of the wine in a bottle. Lesser the filling level, greater the space occupied by oxygen with the consequence of accelerating the oxidative process. The level of filling can vary during the aging of a wine in a bottle because of the sudden changes of temperature which provokes expansions of the wine and forces it to be spilled out of the bottle while increasing the free space that will be occupied by oxygen. Checking the level of filling in a bottle is always a good habit every time a wine is being bought: it is also good to distrust those bottles, in particular bottles of wines which have been aged for a long time, having low filling levels.

 




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  Corkscrew Issue 5, February 2003   
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