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World of Wine: Wine bottle shape and size – does it make a difference?

Let’s start first with bottle size. Imagine the first glass bottles – hand blown and of varying sizes and strength. Slowly, bottle-making became mechanized, and by 1979, the US set the standard size at being 750 ml, with Europeans and the rest of the world getting in step to be able to effectively market wine in America.

There are five basic bottle shapes that we see on the market: the Bordeaux, straight-sided with curving shoulders, useful for catching any sediment; Burgundy, a wider and shorter bottle than the Bordeaux; Alsace/Mosel/Rhine, characteristically long and slender bottles with gently sloping shoulders; Champagne/Sparkling wines with thicker glass, longer neck, sloping shoulders, and thicker pouring lips to withstand the pressure within; and finally, Fortified bottles of vintage port or Madeira.

In checking out the bottles, some other parts are noteworthy.

The indentation at the base of most bottles is known as the ‘punt.’ There are many purposes for which this indentation has been identified: to provide better stability when set upright and open on a table; a place to collect sediment, holding it in a nice ring around the punt; and finally, it is helpful in pouring wine providing a grip for the thumb.

Bottle color also has an impact. Clear or green glass offer little to no protection from sunlight if the intention is to store the wine for any length of time. If the wine bottle is going to be stored on its side, in the darkness of a wine cellar, the color of the glass, or lack of it, would make little difference. Bottles intended for aging are usually a dark brown or opaque glass (some Mosel Rieslings go opaque).

Finally, the foil covering over the top of corked bottles serves both as an attractant and protector, keeping the edge of the cork and bottle clean. Sometimes a logo or image of the winery is emblazoned on them, but are mostly just colorful.

At one time, the capsules were produced from lead, but it was believed that this was a potential source of lead being leached into the wine as it was poured. In reality, it was more of a problem with landfill issues.

With lead being officially phased out by 1996 for capsules, tin and aluminum or a combination of both, became capsule covers. Those sources are now in question for use because of the astronomical rise in the price of tin and aluminum. Demand for tin has risen due to its universal use in the electronics industry.

These increasing prices force wineries to look for lower cost, acceptable alternatives. This opens the door for PVC, polylam materials as capsule closures, in addition to seriously considering screwcaps for lower cost options.

Tin will be the gold standard for premium wine capsules; producers of wine retailing for $20 or less will certainly be weighing the alternatives.