WINE BOTTLE SHAPES – HISTORY & OPPORTUNITIES
Wine bottle shapes have a long history, developing unique forms in different European regions and now closely associated with different wine varieties. Considering the long history of winemaking and the importance of tradition the wine sector has remained relatively conservative. Wine bottles have been mastered over the centuries and even on their own, without labels can be a very elegant and beautiful thing.
In today’s competitive wine market, where brands are eager to differentiate themselves from the rest, exploring different wine bottle shapes is an enormous opportunity to be instantly unique and demand strong shelf presence. While the wine industry has remained less adventurous then other alcohol sectors such as whiskeys, vodkas and other spirits in terms of different and custom bottle shapes, with people becoming increasingly knowledgeable about wine their adventurous spirits are growing, continuously seeking something unique, interesting and different.
I believe that this is an area that will continue to evolve, with more bespoke wine bottle forms and as technology continues to improve it will become more realistic for smaller brands to explore. In this blog I explore the history of wine bottles, their development in different regions, which forms are associated with which varieties, the potential colours for glass and the opportunities going forward.
THE HISTORY OF WINE BOTTLES
Wine has a long history, stretching back as far as 7000BC. With winemaking comes the challenge of how best to store it. As people became more mobile, travelling and exporting the necessity to easily transport it also became critical.
The earliest history of wine storage was likely to be clay pots/pottery. These varied greatly in forms and sizes and became more standardized in Ancient Greece where transportation became increasingly important. The large clay vessels called amphorae, included two handles which allowed them to be hung from rope when travelling by boat across the empire. Amphorae included a tapered bottom so it could be dug and buried into the soil, creating a firm stand and constant temperature. Because the base was not flat a stand was required to hold them upright indoors.
Although archaeological remains of Wineskins are rare due to their biodegradable nature, their history certainly goes back at least as far as Homer’s Odyssey in Ancient Greece. Wineskins were made from animal hide or bladders and were used widely and concurrently to other larger forms throughout history.
Barrels stem back to the Gauls around 100BC using it originally for the storage of Beer. The Roman Empire expanding into the Gaul territory, they soon realised that Barrels were lighter, stronger and more durable then the Pottery Amphorae they had previously been using. The Romans therefore introduced vines and wines into the Gaul lands and took back with them this new technology which they quickly spread throughout their empire.
GLASS WINE BOTTLES
Glass wine bottles stem as far back as the Roman Empire but due to their fragility and difficulty to replicate in standard sizes were originally used in households to serve wine rather then to buy and transport. It wasn’t really until the 17th century, when coal-fired furnaces replaced wood-fire that a greater consistency could be established allowing glass blowing to adopt thicker and darker glass. Corks were also a critical breakthrough allowing wine to be transported and stored for long periods in glass to mature the wine.
EVOLUTION OF GLASS BOTTLE SHAPES
The earliest wine bottle forms had a light-bulb like form, which once can imagine would be simpler to create through glass blowing. Over time this form became recognisably unstable, it could be easily knocked over and wasn’t particularly well suited for transportation. In time the base became larger and more sturdy. The next development was for the bottle to become taller with higher shoulders in what is today similar to a Bordeaux Bottle form. This form allowed the bottles to be compact in storage, while allowing them to be laid on their side allowing the cork to remain moist, preventing some degradation accelerated by being exposed to the liquid and air regularly.
REGIONAL GLASS BOTTLE SHAPES
Today, there are a few classic wine bottle shapes that were developed and refined in different regions of Europe, the most famous of which are Bordeux, Burgundy, Champagne and Riesling. Below are the most common wine bottle shapes.
1. 2. 3. 4.
5. 6. 7.
1. Bordeaux Bottle – commonly used for Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and white wines made with Sauvignon Blanc
2. Burgundy Bottle – commonly used for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Grenache & many oak-aged white wines.
3. Sparkling Wine bottles are heavier because they need to withstand higher pressures. Premium champagnes often adopt custom bottle shapes.
4. Taller and slimmer then Burgundy bottles, the Rhine shaped bottle is commonly used for Riesling.
5. Port and Cherry Bottles typically share the form of the Bordeaux bottle but stockier and more solid.
6. The Bocksbeutel Bottle is commonly used for wines from Franconia in Germany and is protected.
7. Known as the fiasco, a round-bottomed flask encased in a straw basket is famous to the Cianti Region, Tuscany
Wine bottle shapes evolved and developed from both a practical and aesthetic reason. Bordeaux bottles, most commonly used for red wines such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, where aging and therefore storage is important. The high shoulders and long cylindrical sides are perfectly suited for storing on their side. Champagne bottles tend to have thicker glass and are designed to withstand more pressure and to fit in special racks during the lengthy production processes.
In today’s market and considering the quality of glass bottles, as well as the expansion of winemaking into the new world, the choice of wine bottles has become largely an aesthetic thing, with brands seeking to associate themselves with historical precedence. As the new world, such as Australia and the US gain a greater reputation and level of quality it seems appropriate that this maturing is matched with their own bottle forms, no longer relying on the associations with Old World references, opening new opportunities.
NEW FORMS AND CUSTOM WINE BOTTLE SHAPES
One area that is pushing the development of wine bottle shapes and materials is an increased awareness of the environmental impacts. The environmental impacts, both in production and transportation is determined by the amount of glass used and the bottles overall weight. Transporting a wine bottle from Australia to England, for example, or more importantly transporting 10 million bottles, the difference in 100g per bottle rapidly accumulates. Light-weight bottles are becoming increasingly popular, although the form is not yet as robust looking or as elegant as traditional wine bottles so there is still some room for improvement. Another interesting area that is developing is paper wine bottles. Although in no way mainstream, or as elegant as glass wine bottles, there are many benefits and this can be used to great success as a point of difference.
VARIATIONS IN FORMS
While Bordeaux, Burgundy and the bottles above are the most common bottle forms, there are hundreds of custom bottle forms or variations. Certain wines such as Rose’ and Port have a reputation as being more adventurous with bottle forms yet subtle shifts are present in other varieties also. Over the last five years for example, a top heavy Bordeaux has been enormously popular.
VARIATION TO BOTTLE FORMS IN PORTS
VARIATION TO BOTTLE FORMS IN ROSE
CUSTOM WINE BOTTLE SHAPES
Famous Architect Zaha Hadid and her firm were responsible for the sleek, cutting edge design you see in the top left. With technology constantly improving, the possibilities have opened up. Form communicates a personality, in a way beyond the power of labels alone. Form is something we all instantly recognise and relate to. The form might remind us of something, convey sleek, modern, prestige or communicate solid, robust, heavy. There are many different types of wine with hundreds of different characteristics so to explore this through form is perhaps the most instant way to communicate what is within.
WINE BOTTLE COLOURS
CUSTOM GLASS DETAILS
Another possibility in the customise potential of wine bottles is embossed wine details that could include a logo, vintage, or pattern.
I hope you enjoyed this exploration of wine bottle forms, history and opportunities.