Packaging and long-term storage of wine involves the science, art and technology of bottling. Historically, the first efficient storage containers for wine were large amphorae (pottery jars) until the Romans began to blow glass into rounded bottles. The modern wine bottle that we know today didn’t really take shape until the 18th century with the advent of mould-based glass bottles, which could produce bottles with straighter sides that could be more conveniently stacked on their sides and allowed for consistent shapes and neck sizes.
Today, the majority of wine produced and sold globally is packaged in glass because it is an excellent medium that serves the practical, aesthetic and quality protection requirements of a bottle of wine well. Glass is made from silicon dioxide, a relatively inexpensive quartz sand.
Currently, glass is widely accepted by consumers and retailers and remains the preferred packaging choice for wine. It is perceived as the premium wine packaging option suitable for long-term maturation and is merited as the greenest ‘wine packaging’. On the negative side, it is rather heavy, cumbersome, and breakable, and its content could be subjected to harmful UV radiation and temperature variation.
While there are innumerable varieties of wine available in the market, the bottles themselves generally fall into a few specific shapes. In Europe, many wine-producing areas developed unique wine bottle shapes that became the traditional bottle for wines of that region. As winemaking spread around the world, new wineries often adopted those traditional European bottle shapes in order to communicate with their consumers. Traditionally, wine bottles are made in three major shapes: the Bordeaux type, the Burgundy type and the Alsace or “Hock” type.
A Bordeaux bottle (also called Claret) has pronounced high shoulders and is perhaps most associated with Bordeaux-style wines, named after the famous Bordeaux region in France where blends based on the red wine grapes Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are king. The design is well suited for red wines that produce sediment as they age, because the sediment collects in the shoulder of the bottle as the wine is poured. It often has a deep “punt”, also called a kick-up, in the bottom of the bottle. The punt is supposed to hold sediment when the wine is poured or decanted. Since the majority of wines today are filtered and not cellared for years, the punt has taken on a more symbolic nature. Bordeaux bottles are used by wineries throughout the world that make Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and blends of these and other Bordeaux varietals. The shape is commonly used for the noble red wines of Italy and Spain as well. Glass colour is usually dark green, originally the result of impurities but later understood to protect wine from sunlight. The Bordeaux bottle is also generally used for Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Traditionally, colours vary from dark green for red wines, light green for white wines and clear glass for sweet, dessert-style wines.
Classic, yet elegant, the Burgundy (Bourgogne) bottle features gently sloping shoulders and a slightly wider body than the rest. The span of the neck and shoulders of the Burgundy bottle often equal the length of the body.
Just like Bordeaux, the Burgundy bottle is also used for wines produced in other regions of France, notably the Loire Valley. Due to its popularity, the Burgundy bottle is often stylized. Wider Burgundy bottles are used for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Gamay, the principal varietals of Burgundy. This shape is also used for many Loire Valley wines and is typically made of dark green or clear glass and contains a smaller punt than a Bordeaux. Because of the sloping shoulders, Burgundy bottles won’t stack as stably for storage.
These tall, thin bottles are commonly used for bottling aromatic white wines made in Germany and the nearby Alsace region of France. You will most commonly find them containing Riesling, Gewurztraminer, or Pinot Blanc. The Hock bottle (also called the Rhine or Alsace) is tall and slim with a long neck, and generally made of a light green glass. It is used by wineries for several grape varieties including Riesling and Müller-Thurgau. Their wines can vary from dry to sweet (even sparkling), while “New World” winemakers tend to use this bottle for sweet wines only. They come in a variety of colours, most often brown or clear. These bottles are much more delicate than their Burgundy and Bordeaux counterparts and it’s thought this is the case because the main transportation route for these wines was the Rhine River, which meant the bottles needed to be slender in order to fit as many as possible inside the hull. The Rhine bottle is also the same shape and type as the Alsace or Mosel bottle. The glass of the Rhine bottle is often brown or dark green, and the punt is very small or obsolete.
Regardless of what shape bottle in which your wine happens to come, the most beneficial aspect of all three of these bottle designs is that they allow the bottles to be stored on their side, causing the wine to make contact with the cork, and ensuring a perfect oxygen-free seal.
The worldwide standard wine bottle size is 750 millilitres. There are also half bottles (375 millilitre) and double magnum (3.0 L). Wine matures more slowly in larger bottles. Some of those bottles tend to have the same neck size as smaller bottles do. Therefore, the amount of air entering the bottle is the same whether the bottle is 75CL or 18L. The oxygen that gets in contact with the wine in a Melchior (18L) is 24 times smaller than that of a regular size 75CL bottle. As a result, the maturing process is much slower, giving the wine enough time to evolve and develop to a certain level of “perfection” before becoming old. Here’s a list of common bottle sizes and the amount of wine in each:
Piccolo quarter bottle, 25 ml (also called pony, snipe or split)
Demi: half bottle, 375 ml
Standard: 750 ml
Magnum: double bottle, 1500 ml
Jeroboam: double magnum, 3000 ml
History aside, one thing is clear – wine bottles come in all sizes, shapes and colours.
The truth is that the differences in wine bottle shape are purely regional variations that have more to do with tradition than the flavours of the wine. Certain Old World wine appellations, such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, would not consider any of their premium wines in anything else, partly due to historical reasons, and marketing with traditional bottle shapes and colours being synonymous with these regions.
In the past decade, wine bottles have been gradually gaining weight because people typically associate heavier glass bottles with higher quality. The total weight gain for a glass wine bottle is about 450 grams. Approximately 90% of wine container packaging is glass bottles. At a global level, this is equivalent to 8.5 billion tonnes of glass. This affects the environment in a number of ways, consuming raw materials during manufacture, consuming energy during bottling and distribution and creating waste when the bottles are disposed of after consumption
Increasingly, environmental considerations appear to be a factor in packaging choice, as environmental consciousness becomes a larger issue of public debate and discourse. While consumers are asking for greener and more economical packaging, so are winery owners.
In the last few years, glass manufacturers have begun to slim down their bottles producing a greener and more economical bottle. Although the bottle has slimmed down and has become a little greener, it has not lost any of its sense of style. Glass manufacturers have come up with a new technique called “light weighting” which allows them to reduce the overall amount of glass needed to manufacture a bottle.
“Light weighting” is done by reducing the wall thickness and removing the punt or the indention normally found on the bottom of a glass wine bottle. Light weighting of glass
bottles has become an important initiative in the winery industry worldwide in an attempt to reduce carbon footprints and the costs of bottles and transport.
Light weighting wine bottles offers many benefits – it reduces costs, significantly lightens cases (which shelf stockers appreciate), and is environmentally friendly. Yet there has been reluctance by many vintners to switch to lighter bottles, which is due at least in part to the perception that consumers equate lighter bottles with lower quality. By implementing this technique, manufacturers have seen a decrease in glass usage of 14-16%. This decrease in raw materials like sand and soda ash has resulted in an overall cost savings of 10%.
Currently, glass remains the preferred packaging choice for wine. In the future, producers will make more use of alternatives such as polyethylene terephthalate, Tetra Pak cartons, aluminium cans, bag-in-box and pouches to fulfil increasing legal and environmental pressures whilst still providing the most effective means of protecting the quality and aesthetic appeal of their wine, and ultimately, remaining globally competitive. Whether the quality of the actual wine inside the packaging will move beyond entry level will be determined by consumer demand, retailers and ultimately producers.
It is currently argued that although all these packaging alternatives weigh significantly less than traditional glass bottles and produce fewer greenhouse gases, wine does not age well in these types of containers. They also point out that while other containers might be more economical and lighter in weight, they often do not preserve the quality of wine like glass bottles.
Light weighting of packaging, in particular glass wine bottles, has been happening for many years in line with progress in production and process control technology. However, over the last few years there has been a major step change in challenging the status quo as new materials come onto the market and advances in manufacturing technology allow boundaries to be explored. Today’s consumers are becoming more aware of their own “carbon footprint” and are looking to purchase more environmentally friendly products. Many industries, including the wine industry, have taken notice of this trend and are implementing new “green” products in the market place. Wineries now have several options to choose from. The wine industry trades on a premium image. Winemakers and packaging designers have confirmed that the wine industry remains conservative when it comes to adopting new presentations.
Great wines usually have a story that go with them. The packaging and bottle express that story. The bottle designs cannot simply inform the customers, but also provoke feelings and communicate emotions. An effective packaging looks attractive, impresses with its creativity and is just nice to have on the shelf. As Joan Collins stated: Age is just a number. This is totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine.