Why are wine bottles made from glass? Why are there different shapes? The glass wine bottle as we know it today did not come about by chance. Each of its characteristics (material, capacity and shape) has its own explanation.
The history of the glass bottle and wine
In Antiquity, wine was stored in amphorae or ox-hide pouches to protect it from air. But these solutions were not particularly convenient – one was too cumbersome, the other only had a small capacity.
There were glass bottles at the time, but they were reserved for perfume.
However, as customs evolved throughout the Roman Empire, the glass bottle was introduced for serving wine at the table. But there were no closure solutions and the bottles were only used for transferring the wine from the amphora to the table.
It wasn’t until 1634 that the bottle was permanently used for storing, transporting and serving wine. The English had understood the significance of the vessel for wine, and the need to protect it from the sun’s rays. It was also at this time that cork became popular as a closure solution.
The custom developed in the 18th century and King Louis XV ultimately authorised the transportation of wine in bottles, and no longer only in casks.
Why do wine bottles have a capacity of 75cl?
Traditionally, wine bottles have a capacity of 75cl and that is no mere accident.
After the introduction of the weights and measures system still in use today, in the 18th century a decision had to be made about the size of wine bottles. The unit of measure used by the English, who were by far the largest wine trading partners at the time, had to be factored into the equation.
Six 75cl bottles of wine are therefore equivalent to an Imperial gallon.
This not only explains why the 75cl format was chosen as the rule, but also the fact that cases of wine contain either six or twelve bottles.
There are, however, other bottle formats including the Magnum (150 cl), the Balthazar (1,200 cl) and the Melchior (1,800 cl).
What are the different bottle shapes?
There are seven different shapes of wine bottles:
- The Bordeaux wine bottle, which is cylindrical and narrow with shoulders, is used for wines from Bordeaux, but also more generally speaking from South-West France;
- The Burgundy wine bottle has a distinctive tapered shape and no shoulders;
- The Loire wine bottle is a variation of the Burgundy bottle but narrower;
- The Provence wine bottle or ‘hourglass’ shaped bottle is used for Côtes de Provence appellation wines. Negociants prefer the Bordeaux-style bottle;
- The Rhone bottle bears the hallmark Côtes-du-Rhône engraving on its shoulders;
- The Alsace ‘flute’ is a protected design. Its tall, slender, elegant shape make Alsace wines easily recognisable;
- The Jura clavelin is only used for Vin Jaune from Jura.
It is mandatory for winegrowers in some appellations to use a specific bottle shape, one example of which is Alsace.
The glass wine bottle as we know it today is therefore the result of changing techniques and understanding of wine from a winemaking perspective. Several shapes and sizes of glass bottles can now be used to store and mature wine.