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Wine bottle color, shape really matter

Wine Bottle PuntIn my previous post I outlined the reasons for different shapes of wine bottles. In this post I’ll explain the reason behind the bottle’s other features.

The punt of a wine bottle – the deep indention in the bottom of the bottle – is the most questioned of modern bottle shapes. In early bottles, punts added strength to the bottom of the glass and helped stabilize the base, as hand-blown glass can be wrought with imperfections. Punts are common on sparkling wine bottles because it was common practice in Champagne, France, to stack the bottles neck to punt. Punts can also make a wine bottle appear bigger and more impressive. Another function is that it adds an elegant placement for the sommelier’s thumb while pouring in fine dining situations. However, its main purpose today is cosmetic.

The size and shape of sparkling wine bottles has clearly defined roots. In the early days of Champagne-making, it was a common occurrence for bottles to explode from the pressure (roughly 90 pounds per square inch) generated during fermentation. Some workers even wore protective gear for this reason. Champagne bottles are typically made of thick glass with a pronounced punt. It’s not necessary in modern bottling but is an ingrained tradition we will most likely not see changed.

Although all wine is best kept in dark-colored glass, variations in bottle colors can also be explained by region.Generally, whites and roses are in clear glass, while reds are in darker glass. Dark bottles, either because of regional tradition or production, are produced in shades that range from yellow-green and pale blue-green to almost black. In Germany, brown glass was used to differentiate wine from the Rhine region versus the green bottle from Mosel. Blue glass bottles became a popular alternative about 30 years ago.

The variations in size of the early bottles can be attributed to the challenges of early glass-making. In early wine history, most wine was measured out and then put into a bottle, so bottle size didn’t matter much. But for modern bottling we now have precise regulations, with 750 milliliters being a standard size.

  • GREEN GLASS 2011 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Blanc, France (about $20 retail)
  • BROWN GLASS 2010 Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $48 retail)
  • CLEAR GLASS 2010 Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc, California (about $20 retail)

Wine bottle, shape has its own history

Old Wine BottleThe array of bottle designs has an intriguing history.

The modern wine bottle was a journey of man made evolution. The earliest bottles were pretty straightforward: Any vessel that could hold and serve wine, be it pottery, leather or even carved wood, was used. Though glass vessels have been used for wine since at least the Roman times, they didn’t become commonplace until the 17th century.

The shape of early wine bottles resembled an onion – a wide, round body with a short neck. Over time, as glass making techniques advanced and stronger bottles were produced , they became taller and narrower. These elongated bottles allowed vintners to store more of their product. In the 1700s, the practice of binning ( storing a bottle on its side) was created. This storage method was ideal because the cork would stay wet and swollen, ensuring a good seal.

But even with the slow transformation from short and round to tall and narrow, specific bottle shapes traditionally are commonly associated with certain regions or styles, such as the high-shouldered “Bordeaux” bottle, the sloped “Burgundy” bottle and the tall, slender “Hoch” (literally high) bottle for German wines. With the globalization of wine production, bottle shape became away to indicate what type of wine was inside. Generally you find red Bordeaux varietals such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot and whites like sauvignon blanc and semillon in the Bordeaux shape, regardless of where the grapes were grown. The same is generally true for Burgundy’s main varietals of pinot noir and chardonnay as well as the German Hoch bottle for Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Alsace wines.


  • 2010 Francis Coppola Claret Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $14 retail)


  • 2010 Schug Pinot Noir, California (about $19 retail)


  • 2011 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling, Washington (about $12 retail)