5 wine facts: the bottles

wine bottle types

Credit to photo: Shutterstock/CaptainMCity


Text by: Gleb King

5 wine facts: 
the bottles

Some of the best wines spend most of their lives in a bottle. Other vessels it passes through – steel tanks, oak barrels and wine glasses – are just a weekend in a huge life of an old wine. The best of wines spend decades under cork. But despite this, there’s not much attention to bottles – all the applause goes to glasses and fermentators of any kind. Meanwhile, the form, the color and the capacity of bottles are the crucial parameters that form the wine’s character. Here are 5 lesser known facts that will help understand the importance of wine bottles. 

1. Amber is safer 

    Green and amber bottles are used for wines with higher aging potential. White wine has lower phenolic content than red and therefore is more vulnerable to sunlight. Though, some white and rose wines are packed in plain glass bottles – this means that they’re made to be consumed without bottle aging. The most dangerous light spectrum for wines lays in the shortwave ultraviolet range (100-400 nm*) – it may initiate reactions leading to formation of sulfurous compounds with an unpleasant taste and scent. According to an assessment made by Glass Technology Services (GTS) and the University of Sheffield, the clear glass allows 90% of light to pass with a wavelength of 350 nm. No protection. Green bottles let go about 70% of UV light with a wavelength of 370 nm – better, but UV is still there. Finally, the amber bottles cut out any light waves before 500 nm – so they are very effective against UV light.


    *Nanometer – 1 millionth of 1 millimeter.   


    2. The bigger ones last longer

      The evolution of wine in a bottle is, scientifically speaking, a slow oxidation. During bottling, every bottle captures a small amount of oxygen which, in time, makes the wine change its qualities – oxygen makes the tannins softer and so on – this is called bottle aging. On market there’s a huge range of wine bottle sizes, from demi of halfbottle (0,375 l), to Midas or Melchizedek (30 l). The uncorking of the least is usually a show with special devices. Jancis Robinson wrote an article on an influence of bottle size on aging speed, and confirmed that wine in smaller bottles evolve much quicker. So, if you want to know a picture of a standard 0.75 l bottle in future, try the same vintage but a smaller bottle. 


      3. Weight doesn’t mean quality

        Some bottles, especially for red wines, have an indentation on the bottom. In wine language this is called the punt. The deeper the punt – the heavier the bottle. Amateur wine lovers connect the depth of punt with higher quality. That is not right. Also, there’s a belief that this form helps to collect sediment. This is really useful but this option was discovered by sommeliers much later than punt was invented. In old times, when the bottles were hand-blown, the seam was pushed up to make the bottle heavier and more stable. The form of the dome also improved the structure and made the bottle stronger. Today some sommeliers use it to get more grip on the bottle, but in general, nowadays, the punt serves only a decorative function and is a part of design.


        4. High shoulders are more than a tradition 

          The market offers a big number of wine bottle shapes. The most popular are – Bordeaux (high shoulders), Burgundy (sloping shoulders), Flute (tall and spiky), Champagne (no reason to describe), Rhone (like Burgundy but heavier). Though wine traditions are very strong and each kind of bottle is linked with a certain wine style, there are deviations – for example, pinot sometimes appears in Bordeaux bottles. This mostly happens in developing wine regions with less strict law regulations. So, the shape is mostly a matter of tradition. However, the high-shouldered bottles offer a better protection from direct sunlight from above (see pt. 1). That’s why this form is mostly used for complex reds, more vulnerable to sun. 


          5. Champagne is supersonic 

            Most wine lovers know that now, ages since Dom Perignon’s experiments, humanity, fearing but drinking, has made champagne much more secure. Though a standard Champagne bottle holds a pressure of 5-6 atmospheres, which is about 5 kg per centimeter, today it has much less chance to self-explode. Anyway, it’s still dangerous. The opening of a champagne bottle is a complex supersonic phenomena. According to this article, an unchained cork flies relatively slow – about 20 meters per second, but the CO2’s speed is around 400 meters per second which is faster than the speed of sound. The gas literally breaks the sound barrier, creating a shock-wave accompanied by a loud clap.

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