Have you every wondered why a standard wine bottle is 750mL? Or why wine bottles are the shape they are?
My curiosity was recently piqued by David Ling at Hugel in Alsace when he uncovered a few tidbits. 750mL is roughly the average exhalation volume of the human lungs (in the context of glassblowing). Thus, it was the most common size when bottles were all made by human glassblowers – a tradition that has persisted into today’s regulated market. Specialist glassblowers were required to blow larger format bottles – magnums for instance.
The reason Alsatian and Germanic wine bottles are the classic, tall flute shape is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a matter of economics. The main trade route out of these regions was on smooth-sailing barges along the Rhine. Bottles did not need to be as strong as those from other regions with more strenuous trade routes and thus did not require a punt at the bottom of the bottle. The long flute shape was found to be ideal for maximising packing efficiency in crates.
Bottles from Bordeaux and Burgundy are stronger, with a traditional punt found in the base, as the bottles had to withstand a rougher journey to their export markets by sea (Bordeaux) or over land (Burgundy). The high shoulder of the Bordeaux bottle is said to capture much of the sediment of these more tannic wines – a feature that is not needed with Burgundy. Wines from Chianti were traditionally carried around by a handle attached to a straw basket secured around the base of the bottle. This meant bottles did not even need a flat bottom – making fiasci the cheapest bottle yet.
What was once a matter of common sense and practicality has now become embedded in tradition – or even law. For example, Alsace AOC white wines must be bottled in the flutes. Bottle shapes have become synonymous with wine styles too. Most New World producers of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer will use the traditional Germanic flutes. Most Chardonnay and Pinot Noir around the world use a Burgundy bottle; similarly for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot-based wines using the high-shouldered Bordeaux bottle.
There is a reason for everything!