BOTTLES: MESSAGE THROUGH THE BOTTLE
Jim Croche’s popular tune “Time in a bottle,“ is a piece about sending a message through a bottle.
Some 40 years ago, the shape of a bottle told you what was inside, if you knew enough about regions of production. It is true; “ There is no true understanding without knowledge “. It applies to wines, and particularly to European generic wines.
Traditionally wines made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay, Aligote, Chablis and Passetoutgrains were bottles in slope-shouldered bottles.
Wine aficionados expected to find red and white Bordeaux wines in round-high-shouldered bottles.
Riesling and other German wines except Franconian products, belonged to gooseneck bottles, which were brown or dark green. Brown bottles indicated the wine’s origin from one of the regions along the Rhine River, whereas green bottles came from the Mosel River vineyards.
Alsace wineries put their wines in gooseneck bottles, because the region changed hands four times between the French and Germans. The last time Germans ruled the region, the bottle shape took hold, and when the French took over they did not change it. For a while Beaujolais wineries marketed their wines in a bottle called Le Pot de Beaujolais (pin-shaped). Chateauneuf-du-Pape producers like to market their wines in traditional heavy embossed with the papal symbol of the Pope’s hat and crossed keys. Barolo is also bottled in a similar shaped bottle called Albese. Since 1726 Franconia in Germany, used a special bottle shape called Bocksbeutel (goat’s scrotum), which served as a model for Mateus rose, once the most popular wine in North America.
Some producers patented their own bottle shapes i.e. Fazi-Battaglia Verdicchio, Yago in Rioja, and Black Tower in Germany. Fazi-Battaglia features a fish shaped bottle and Yago a square.
Of course Provence has long marketed its rose wines in a distinct bottle never confused with any other. But, alas high costs and market forces prevents Provence wineries from using them.
Chianti used to fill its wines in straw covered, bulbous bottles, but most have given up the practice due to high cost of bottling and transportation. Who can forget the extra long neck bottles of Bardolino? There are still some in restaurants used more as decoration than wine.
In olden days if power failed, as it did frequently, you could still get your preferred bottle by shape alone but not anymore. Times have since changed!
New World wineries particularly Americans decided to ignore traditional bottle shapes, and predictably all others followed starting with Australians, New Zealanders, Chileans, Argentines and South Africans.
If Riesling is hard to sell they feel free to market it in a Chardonnay bottle, and if you can sell Marechal Foch in a Bordeaux bottle, why not?
The most consistent bottle shape and strength has been that of Champagne. The wine can exert up to 90 lbs/inch2 pressure and therefore the bottle must be strong. It usually features a punt to provide additional strength. Sparkling wine producers everywhere adopted it although a few minor changes have been made to reduce both weight and volume. Still today the best looking and strongest sparkling wine bottles come from Champagne.
Generally wine bottles are either dark green or brown, both of which keep out harmful ultraviolet rays. Lately, however, some wineries started using dark blue glass in an attempt to render their products more attractive.
Sauternes and Barsac wineries have for a long time marketed their wines in clear glass, but they are lined with special screens to keep ultraviolet rays out.
When glass bottle became popular towards the end of the 17th century their size depended much on the lung capacity of the glass blower, The 750 ml became more or less standard because this size represents the average lung capacity of a glass blower.
Today bottle sizes range from 50 ml to 250, 375, 500, 1L, 1.5, 3.0, 6.0, 7.5, 9.0, 16.0 and 20.0.
Still wines are generally marketed in 375, 500 ml, 1L, 1.5, 3.0 and6.0 bottles. Larger sizes are the specialty of Champagne manufacturers.
Recently a Mosel winery started marketing a wine in a cat-shaped, frosted glass bottle with much success, although the contents are not of great quality.
Flange tipped, attractive bottles seem to be all the rage now. They look attractive and effectively eliminate the necessity of using a foil to cover the neck.
Wineries understand packaging and its importance on sales. They spend a lot of time and money to research the most appealing, functional size and bottle shape.
When it comes to innovative and imaginative packaging, Canadian icewine producers deserve to be singled out. They have been able to invent most appealing packaging in an attempt to increase sales.
French have always excelled in packaging, but Italian designers cannot be ignored. They have come up with unusual and intriguing bottle shapes for their grappas, all the way up to Murano crystal. How innovative of them!
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu