Bottle Me This, Bottle Me That

While less impactful than the type of wood a barrel is made from, the type of bottle chosen for any variety of wine is not a decision taken lightly.  When you purchase a bottle of wine, the type of bottle used has been determined by many different factors.   Wine producers use a combination of tradition, grape type, wine shelf-life and strategic marketing techniques to determine the best bottles to use for a particular style of wine

Across Europe, most wine producers follow time-honored traditions when choosing the shape of the bottle that is most appropriate to their style of wine.  In North and South America, wine producers select the style of bottle they will use based on which type of wine they choose to associate their wines with.  So, if a vineyard in Argentina is producing the Sangiovese grape, most likely, they will choose the Fiasco bottle (round-bottomed flask wrapped in a straw basket).

Once the type of bottle is determined, the next choice the wine producer has is the color of the bottle.  Again, depending upon the type of wine, a producer will choose a darker or lighter colored bottle.  Dark-colored bottles are still the favorite of red wine producers worldwide.  And while you can find many white wines in dark-colored bottles as well, in Greece, Canada, and New Zealand, clear colorless bottles have become popular with white wine producers.

The benefit of dark-colored bottles over clear bottles is the ability to block sunlight.  While natural light is great for the process of growing grapes and developing the sugars, once the wine hits the bottle, sunlight can be a big detriment.  Colored, or tinted glass, prevents the wine from losing beneficial antioxidants like Vitamin C and Tannins.  When wines break down their shelf-life drastically decreases.  Thus, as a general rule, wines bottled in clear, colorless bottles are ready-to-drink and wines bottled in dark colored bottles can be placed on your wine rack or in your pantry for when the time presents itself for them to be opened.

For the majority of the last century, the U.S. was still coming into its own with regards to it’s laws and other attitudes towards alcohol.  As the U.S. was carving out its own identity as a wine producer, we opted to follow the tradition of European wine producers when bottling wines.  We, however, did not use the same measuring system.  We chose to use, as standard, a non-metric measurement for bottles.

Wine and liquor were bottled in what was called a “fifth.”  This standard of measure meant one-fifth of a U.S. gallon.  Consumers could also purchase beverages in tenth-, half- and one-gallon sizes. Towards the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, in 1979, the U.S. finally adopted the metric, or “European” system for wine bottles.

Once the style of bottle was firmly in place the next step for wine producers was deciding the size or volume in which to offer their wines.  Most commonly purchased bottles of wine were named in relation the standard size (750mL); Magnum (1.5L), half (375mL), and quarter/pony (187.5 mL).  Larger bottles of wine were named with a bit of a psychological twist.  Starting with the Marie Jeanne (a.k.a. Tregnum or Tappit Hen), measuring 2.25L in size, bottles were named after historical figures and Biblical Kings.  Being respected as living things, and quite possibly being harder to sell, larger bottles were so named to give the consumer a sense of closeness with a holy idol or historical figure.  So, the next time you’re in your favorite wine store don’t be afraid to ask for a Rehoboam-4.5L (First King of separate Judea), or a Mordechai-9L (Cousin of Esther, Queen of Persia) or even a Nebuchadnezzar-15L (First King of Babylon).

So, the next time you are shopping for wine, keep in mind when you plan on drinking that bottle, the number of people you will be serving, and how much you want to impress yourself or your guests.  However, mainly understand that wine bottle types are just as important to the production of wines as the terroir and barrel type.  So the next time you buy a wine in a clear, colorless bottle please drink it sooner than later, as all wines do not get better with age.

About americanwinegrape

American Wine Grape Distributors Inc. AKA A. Silvestro Wine Grape, has been in business for over 5 decades. We are wine enthusiasts just like you and want to share in that enjoyment. This is why we are developing a new and exciting platform for growers, restaurants, sommeliers and home winemakers. Our goal is to bring the wine community together and is the driving force behind our new blog.