When it comes to wine bottles, does size and shape really matter?
Different bottle sizes doesn’t mean better wine quality, although smaller bottles are believed to hasten the ageing process while larger bottles not only looks better, they could also change the taste of wine. This ability to change its taste happens because the larger sized wine bottles allows the wine to age and develop over longer periods of time than the standard glass bottles, in other words, wine from larger format wine bottles age more slowly, and possibly even develop more complexity and nuances than wines from smaller wine bottle sizes. This is due to the smaller amount of air, or more accurately, (oxygen and sulfur dioxide) that resides between the cork and the wine.
This means that if you’re planning on buying a very old bottle of wine, or aging a wine for 30, 40, 50 or in some cases 100 years, the wine will most likely be better if it was aged in a large format bottle. Plus, large format wine bottles also look quite impressive on the dinner table!
What are the different wine bottle sizes and names?
Half Quarter: 93.5ml (1/8 Bottle) – Better known as a Topette, is used most often as sample bottles
Quarter Bottle: 187ml Also known as Piccolo. (1/4 bottle) 1 glass of wine
Half Bottle: Demi or Split: 375ml (1/2 bottle) 9 1/2” tall, 2 1/4” tall, 2 glasses of wine
Standard: 750ml, 25.4 oz, with height varying from 12″ to 13″ and 3 3/8” wife. This is the most popular sized wine bottle offering 4 to 6 glasses of wine
Magnum: 1.5 Liters – 50 Ounces, (2 bottles) 14″ in height, 4 1/2” wide. 8-12 glasses of wine.
Jeroboam or Double Magnum: 3 Liters, 100 Ounces, 18″ in height, 5” wide – (4 bottles)
Rehoboam: 4.5 Liters – 152 Ounces, – 19.5″ in height – (6 bottles) – This format is usually reserved for Champagne
Bordeaux Jeroboam: 5 Liters – 170 Ounces – (6.75 bottles
Old Bordeaux Jeroboam: Prior to 1978, the Jeroboam was 4.45 liters, 150 ounces – (5 bottles) and was often written as 444 CL.
Imperial: 6 Liters – 203 ounces – (8 bottles)
Methuselah: 6 Liters – 203 ounces, 22″ in height – (8 bottles)
Salmanzar: 9 Liters – 304 Ounces – 25″ in height – (12 bottles)
Balthazar: 12 Liters 406 Ounces – 28″ in height – (16 bottles)
Nebuchanezzar: 15 Liters – 507 Ounces, 31″ tall – (20 bottles)
Melchoir: 18 Liters – 608 Ounces – 36″ in height – (24 bottles)
Solomon: 20 Liters – 676 Ounces – (26 bottles) This format is most often reserved for Champagne
Sovereign: 25 Liters – 845 Ounces – (33.3 bottles)
Primat or Goliath: 27 Liters – 913 Ounces – (36 bottles)
Melchizedek: 30 Liters – 1,014 Ounces – (40 bottles)
The Imperial and the Methuselah are both 6 Liters (8 bottles). The difference between the names depends on what is being bottled. Imperials are shaped like a standard wine bottle and are used for red or white wine. The Methuselah is usually reserved for Champagne or sparkling wine and comes in a sloped shoulder bottle, similar to a Burgundy bottle.
Interestingly, you will note that many of the unique names for various wine bottle sizes were inspired by Biblical characters. For example:
-Jeroboam: “First King of the northern Kingdom of Israel”
-Methuselah: “Oldest Man”
-Salmanzar: “Assyrian King”
-Balthazar: “One of The Wise Men”
-Nebuchadnezzar: “King of Babylon”
-Solomon: “King Solomon, the wisest of all men, built the Temple in Jerusalem”
-Melchizedek: “was the king of Salem and priest of El Elyon”
What are the standard wine bottle shapes?
Different types of wine bottles are the result of various traditional glassblowing methods across regions, rather than winemakers’ attempts at enhancing the quality of wine. As with sizes, the shape of wine bottles is more or less standardized across the world. Most wines you find on the shop shelves will be packaged into five standard shapes. They are named after the wine regions where they were originally developed and used to store the flagship wine of these regions.
Knowing the basic shapes can be a useful clue to identifying the style of wine before even reading the label.
Also known as a Germanic bottle, this bottle is taller and thinner than other types, with gently sloping shoulders. The main grape contained in Alsace bottles is Riesling. Bottles holding French Riesling are often brown, while the ones used for German Riesling are more often green.
This is probably the most common bottle you will come across. The body of a Bordeaux bottle has a cylindric shape, with straight sides and high shoulders (the link between the body of a bottle and a bottleneck). The most popular style of wine in Bordeaux are Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot blends, but you will find most wines sold in this type of bottle.
The Burgundy bottle is most often used for Chardonnay and quite often Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. It has a longer neck than the Bordeaux bottle and distinctive sloping shoulders, making it resemble a cone.
The bottles for Champagne and other sparkling wines like Cava or Prosecco might resemble a Burgundy bottle, but are heavier and thicker. This is because they have to resist the high pressure resulting from the production of sparkling wines.
The main bottle in which you will find Port, Sherry, Madeira and other fortified wines. This resembles a Bordeaux bottle, but with a key difference. The neck of a Port bottle has a bulb to trap excess sediment during pouring.
The shape somewhat resembles a bowling pin, an hourglass or even a corset. As the name suggests, this bottle comes from Côtes de Provence, the famous rosé-producing region. With the current trend for rosé wines, you’re very likely to spot this shape of bottle when shopping for wine.
Why do wine bottles have a concave bottom?
You may have wondered about the purpose of the indentation at the bottom of a wine bottle. This depression is known as a punt or a kick-up. Punts don’t contribute to the quality of wine but they often come in handy during wine production and service.
Punts for Champagne and sparkling wines are deeper because they strengthen the glass that needs to withstand high pressure. A deep punt also makes it easier for a bottle to be lifted by suction during sparkling winemaking. With a deep punt, you can also support the bottle more easily with your thumb when pouring.
A punt adds to the cost of a bottle. It is cheaper to produce a bottle without the punt, as it requires less glass. However, a punt is no indicator of the quality of the wine, but rather the winemaker’s visual preference.
Next time you’re at your local wine retailer, see which shapes and styles you can identify.
Here’s a hint:
A few producers prefer shorter, wide bottles. Sine Qua Non, the top producer of Rhone varietals in North America uses a different bottle in shape and size for every vintage! A small amount of California winemakers have even taken to packaging their wine in square shaped bottles, making them quite easy to stack and store.
In Burgundy, the shape most commonly used is a bottle with sloped shoulders and a small punt, which is now almost always referred to as a Burgundy shaped bottle.
German and Alsatian wine producers favor extremely tall bottles with long necks and tiny or non-existent punts.
Italian producers utilize a myriad of wine bottle sizes and shapes for their wines, especially for lower priced bottles that are marked by their round, shape and are from time to time wrapped in straw. Chianti bottles were historically wrapped in straw not for decorative purposes, but to protect the round, shaped bottles during shipping.
Port and Madeira favors a round, almost cylinder bottle shape that was designed for long term cellaring that is quite easy to stack, store and transport.
Credit: WinecellerInsider and WSET Global