It’s something that probably never comes into your mind when buying a bottle of wine, at least not consciously anyway, but it is something I notice every week in the shop when I’m helping customers make a choice that’s going to have them come back to us again.
Wine Intelligence’s new packaging report the familiar 750ml bottle is still by far the most popular choice for consumers, as opposed to bag-in-box, Tetra Pak, plastic bottles and smaller sized glass bottles. These vessels may be better embraced in the future, just as screwcap took time to become the norm.
Packaging does matter, from the label to the shape of the bottle. It’s funny how most people love our dinky bottles from Borgo Magredo (pictured, right), which hold the same amount of wine as the standard 750ml Burgundy shaped bottle, but I would guess maybe one in ten are put off by purely by the shape. It’s unfamiliar and perhaps they don’t trust it.
From the quality point of view, the shape of bottle has no bearing whatsoever. I’ve heard all sorts of funny old wives tales since I’ve been in this business. I think everyone in the trade has heard the punt or indent theory at least once. It’s hard to believe that some people are put off by a flat bottomed bottle believing that the quality of the wine is dictated by the depth of the indent at the bottom. Surely if that was the case, every producer would be making this feature standard on all of their bottles?
The following is a rough guide to the most popular shapes, but there are not hard and fast rules:
The Burgundy shape has gentle sloping shoulders, like this Chablis. These sturdy, heavy bottles are commonly used in Burgundy and Loire, as well as in the New World for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and in Italy for Barolo.
Rhone style bottles are similar to Burgundy, but may have a coat of arms on the neck. The shape might be a little more slick and feminine too. Domaine le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras is a good example.
Bordeaux bottles have straight sides and tall shoulders, just like the Sirius Bordeaux. It is widely used in the New World for producers using Bordeaux grape varieties, and in Italy for Chianti.
Champagne bottles are built for a purpose, considering the pressure is around three times that of the average car tyre. Thicker glass with a deep punt on the underside and sloping shoulders, like the elegant Duval Leroy Brut Champagne. Sometimes they can be a bit vain – La Femme Champagne.
Then we’ve got the tall, narrow bottles from Alsace and Mosel, and this is where it’s worth seeking advice and it can go from dry to super sweet and anything in between. The Rhine can sometimes be distinguished by its brown coloured glass. Lastly, fortified wines range from the standard Port bottle to slender 500ml sherry bottles.
So, the purchase decision shouldn’t be based on the shape of the bottle, or the prettiness of the label for that matter, but as a helplessly easy-to-influence consumer myself, I know it’s hard to stick to that rule. As long as one can trust the shape.