Just like wine glasses, wine bottles come in different sizes, shapes, and colors — and not just for aesthetic reasons. The most common bottle forms are part of long traditions that were established in historic wine regions and passed around the globe until they became part of the everyday language of wine. If you can crack the code, the shape can actually offer enticing clues on what you’re about to taste. Here are six of the wine bottle shapes you’re most likely to encounter:
Originally from the Bordeaux region of France, this is the most popular wine bottle in the world. It has straight sides and distinctive, high shoulders and can be found in a variety of colors. Red wines are typically bottled in dark green or brown glass to provide protection from the sun as they age. Light green or clear glass tend to be used for white wines as they tend to be enjoyed younger and stored in the fridge. Some varietals you might find in a Bordeaux bottle include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Many PA wineries choose this dramatic bottle for their prized reserve reds (bonus: the dramatic shoulders are perfect for holding medals!).
Created in the 19th century in the Burgundy region of France, this bottle has graceful, sloping shoulders. Its global popularity can be partially attributed to the fact that the shape was very easy for glassmakers to produce. Another fun fact: the standard volume for these bottles was set at 750mL, which is the average exhalation volume of the human lungs. This vestige of the days when all bottles were made by hand (and mouth!) endured into the mechanized era and is still the most common bottle size today. Due to its provenance in Burgundy, this particular shape remains the classic vessel for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the two signature grapes of that region. Wines with similar characteristics to those two iconic grapes — light, fruity reds and oak-aged whites — are often housed in Burgundy bottles.
This tall, slender bottle goes by a few names — Rhone, Hock, Alsace, Mosel, Schlegelflasche (“drumstick bottle”) — but the important thing to remember is that it’s most commonly associated with Riesling, both the dry and the sweet versions. It can also be used for other grapes from the Alsace region such as Gewürztraminer. These bottles are more delicate than their cousins listed above. Some say that’s because they were shipped via the mellow Rhine River as opposed to having to endure a trip on the high seas as many U.K.-bound French bottles did.
These bottles are made thicker and heavier in order to withstand high pressure and to tame those delightful bubbles. Sparkling wine bottles boast gently sloping shoulders and a deep dimple — known as a “punt” — in the bottom, which increases the strength of the bottle. These celebration-makers are usually green to protect older vintages from sun damage, though these days we’ve seen plenty of sparkling rosés served in a clear bottle to showcase the enticing color.
Port bottles resemble Bordeaux bottles, with their high, elegant shoulders. There’s one big difference though: bottles for Port-style wines traditionally feature a bulb in the neck to catch sediment — which can result from aging — during pouring.
Intense and often pricey ice wines are usually bottled in tall, thin vessels that hold half the volume of a typical wine bottle. The slim shape provides a little elegance at the end of a meal and the lower volume is consistent with the smaller glasses in which dessert and ice wines are typically enjoyed.