Cute artistic stylizations aside, you may never have paid much attention to the shapes of wine bottles except for noting small differences here and there. Sure, a bottle of Chianti or other Italian table wine has a distinctly bulged bottom and a straw basket. But generally speaking, the differences between one style and another are subtle. So, what are the main bottle shapes? And more importantly, do they affect the wine they hold?
Anatomy of a Wine Bottle
Before jumping into the different styles, it will be helpful to understand a bottle's anatomy. Let's start with the top and work our way to the bottom.
The closure is most often a cork or a screw-cap style. Corks allow a minute amount of oxygen through to the wine, a key component in cellaring your wines. Screw-cap closures are mostly hermetically sealed and typically used for wines intended for young consumption.
The topmost part of the bottle is the mouth. The inner bore of the mouth holds the cork (if present).
The lip is the raised part of the bottle just below the mouth.
The capsule is the metal foil that encapsulates the closure, the mouth, the lip, and part of the neck. The capsule prevents the cork from drying out and minimizes evaporation loss from the bottle. Another fun fact about foil capsules: they deter rodents from gnawing away at the cork and force cork weevils to find more suitable environs.
The slender part of the bottle below the lip is called the neck. It serves as a good grip while pouring. The wine level in any unopened bottle should be somewhere in the neck. Anything less indicates evaporation or leakage. Too much evaporation could be evidence of a dry cork that may crumble into the bottle upon opening. Or it could mean leakage, perhaps due to pests if the capsule lost its integrity.
The shoulders are the sloping part below the neck. As with anything with shoulders, they come in different shapes. We'll see more on this in the bottle types below.
The main part of the wine bottle is the body. It is normally cylindrical, but this doesn't have to be the case.
There are usually two labels affixed to the body of a wine bottle. National laws can dictate what information must be present on the labels. The front label commonly has the company and brand name of the wine as well as the varietal, vintage, and alcohol by volume (ABV).
The back label ordinarily has the country of origin, a description of the wine, and volume. Again, laws by region can mandate specific information be present on the labels.
The dimple in the bottom of a wine bottle is called the punt. While finding consensus on exactly what the punt's purpose is can be challenging, the generally accepted explanation is it gives the bottle strength and structural integrity. Some like to point out that the punt, like the neck, also affords the pourer an ideal place to grip the bottle.
Finally, the heel is the base of the bottle.
There are several bottle types and we'll cover the most common ones here. For the most part, they carry the historic traditions of specific wine regions.
Bordeaux bottles are named for the region in France from which they originated. This style is common and has straight sides with high, prominent shoulders, and a pronounced punt. The color is almost always dark green for red wines and light green to clear for white and sweet wines. Most often these bottles hold cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and sauvignon blanc. Our 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Bismark Vineyard, and 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, Ram's Gate Estate wines are bottled in Bordeaux bottles.
Port, Sherry, and other Fortified Wines
Fortified wines such as port, sherry, and Madeira also use a style of Bordeaux bottle. The difference is they have bulbous necks to help collect excess residues when pouring.
Burgundy bottles are another style from France but comparatively younger than the Bordeaux style. This bottle dates back to the 19th century (as compared to the 1700s for the Bordeaux) and it is a tall bottle with sloping shoulders and usually a less-pronounced punt. The California chardonnay lover knows this bottle shape as does the pinot noir fan. Regardless of what's bottled inside, green is the typical color for this bottle. Along with Bordeaux, the Burgundy bottle is a contender for the most popular bottle style and here at Ram's Gate, we use it quite a bit! Our highly-rated 2019 Chardonnay, Cellar Note, and 2018 Pinot Noir, Bush Crispo Vineyard make use of Burgundy bottles.
Given that the Alsace bottle has a German origin, it makes sense that you most commonly find riesling in these bottle types. Both dry and sweet rieslings alike are at home in this style. Another fun fact: French rieslings often use brown Alsace bottles while German ones use green. But rieslings don't run the market on this bottle style. At Ram's Gate, we use this style for our 2020 Rosé, Sonoma Coast, and 2019 Pinot Blanc, Ram's Gate Estate wines.
The Champagne bottle style hardly needs an introduction. People know it when they see it. They are wide, thick-walled, with sloping shoulders and they have a very pronounced punt. Those who contend that the punt lends strength and integrity to the bottle always mention champagne and other sparkling wines. They build up more internal pressure so a structurally sound bottle is paramount. The 2013 Blanc de Noirs, Ram's Gate Estate sparkling wine uses this bottle style.
This list is not exhaustive. Ice or dessert wines typically come in what looks like a slimmer Bordeaux bottle and many rosés make use of the Provence bottle. Rhone bottles look like Burgundy bottles, but are slightly slimmer and tend to come with syrah or grenache.
This is great. How does it affect the wine?
Basically, it doesn't. Much of the chosen bottles are driven by tradition. Varietals, terroir, fermenting practices, and proper storage all have a bigger impact on the wine than the container it's bottled in. But hopefully, as you start to recognize these bottle shapes you'll get an idea of what kinds of wines are likely to be found in them and become a more enlightened wine consumer.