What you didn't know about wine bottles
The Bacchus Bottle
By John and Jennifer Verplanck
If you are in a foreign country and don’t know the language, you can still have a clue as to the type of wine in a bottle simply by the shape and color of the glass. Ages ago, somebody decided to create four distinct shapes of glass bottles for wine storage and it stuck. It is thought that the shapes and colors were created fairly at random.
If you’re seeking Pinot Noir, Gamay or Chardonnay, look for the bell shaped bottle from Burgundy, France.
A heavier bottle of the same shape, but with a concave indentation in the bottom, contains sparkling wine, Prosecco or Champagne. You’ll find Alsatian and German wines like Riesling in tall slender bottles with long necks colored green or blue (Mosel) or brown (Rhine). Cabernet and Merlot, typical Bordeaux wines, are packaged in the traditional slim cylindrical bottle with straight sides and a high, slightly sloping shoulder.
Before the wine bottle became standardized in 1979, to the 750 ml. size, wine bottles varied wildly in size, shape, color and volume. It was even illegal from 1636 to 1860 in Britain to sell wine by the bottle, due to the common practice of cheating on the volume. So the law was to sell wine wholesale by the barrel and then pour it to customers who brought their own containers.
The advent of the coal-fired furnace in the 17th century, which burned hotter than wood or charcoal, allowed for stronger, thicker glass to be produced, including the Champagne bottle.
Before this, glass bottles were too fragile for practical use in storage or transportation of wine. The Romans perfected hand blown glassmaking and eventually figured out fragile bulbous shaped wine bottles with cork as the preferred closure. Up until the 17th century, though, glass bottles were luxury items. Other than cost, glass was ideal mostly because it was inert and didn’t interfere with the flavor or processing of the wine and you could easily see what was inside.
Sir Kenelm Digby is cited as the “father of the modern bottle”. He was a colorful character, an adventurer, privateer and alchemist who actually faked his own death to avoid his troubles. But his savvy furnace-blower system, technique and secret formula produced superior glass that launched the wine industry to a new level. Champagne bottles need to withstand about 80 to 90 psi, 3 times the pressure of your normal car tire, or they’ll explode. In case you’ve wondered, the “punt” on the bottom of sparkling and other wine bottles is for strength because the bottom of a glass bottle is the weakest spot.
The ancient history of wine vessels for storage and transportation before glass includes animal skins, clay jugs lined with beeswax or pine resin, terracotta, wooden casks and barrels, ceramic and metal containers. The addition of spices, honey and other additives was generally to cover up how awful the wine was.
Oxidation and flavor impurity, stabilization and breakage were all commonplace problems. People still loved their wine. They even had massive wine transport containers called “dolia” installed in their ships, which held up to 2000 liters of wine. Recently discovered shipwrecks in the Mediterranean revealed the holding tanks. Before this discovery, clay amphorae were thought to be the main transportation vessels for wine. Wine and beer related artifacts are some of the most common pieces found at archaeology sites.
Homer said, “Wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.” Let’s bottle that!
Photo/ Illustration credits: Public Domain, Pixabay, Wiki Commons, Pexels
Jennifer Laskey VerPlanck