PACKAGING plays an ever-increasing part in today’s world, and this is just as true of wine as of any other product. While you can now purchase it in cans, tetrapacks, and bag-in-boxes, by far the largest amount still comes in glass bottles. Until the middle of the 17th century, a bottle was little more than a jug equivalent, and came in a variety of forms.
In 1662, the manufacture of sound glass bottles was patented. These new bottles were of particular importance to the Champagne trade, as they were strong enough to support the secondary fermentation in the bottle, and could be laid on their side for ageing.
There are three basic shapes for wine bottles: the bordelaise, which had square shoulders (used generally for wines from Bordeaux and other wines based on cabernet sauvignon and merlot); the bourguignonne (used for Burgundies and Rhône wines), and the slender-shaped flute (for German and Alsace wines, and most Rieslings).
There are, of course, other shapes that have been specifically designed to create recognition for the wines of a particular region, such as those of Provence, which generally appear in a waisted bottle. Such designs always prove to be successful. The first growers in Central Otago, New Zealand, plumped for a taller version of the flute, but this was found not to fit in the fridges of wine-bars or on the shelves of wine-merchants, and so was soon abandoned.
More recent developments include the creation of the lightweight glass bottle. This has ecological advantages, as its production and distribution leave a lower carbon footprint. Nevertheless, some producers put their most prestigious wines in heavier-weight bottles, in the belief that they enable the wine to age better. One example of this is the Culmen wine of the Rioja producer, Bodegas LAN.
Legislation has standardised the size of a wine bottle at 75 centilitres, although there are a range of accepted sizes both lower and higher than this. The largest sizes of all are graced with Old Testament names such as Jeroboam, Methuselah, and the 15-litre Nebuchadnezzar, although, sadly, I cannot find where or when this tradition started.
Another mystery is that of the punt, or indentation, found in the bottom of many bottles, particularly of fine wines. This may originally have come about as a result of the way a bottle was produced, as there used to be a glassmaker’s tool with the same name, but it is first mentioned as a bottle part in a book by T. G. Shaw in 1862. It serves little useful purpose, although a Cambridge academic has said that the price of the bottle of wine is related to the depth of the punt. I can categorically state there is no truth in this.
Here are some bottles that you might enjoy. Reds: from Puglia, in southern Italy, Torre del Falco Nero di Troia 2013 (Waitrose, £5.99), and Don Cristóbal Bonarda, Mendoza, Argentina 2015 (Tanners, £9.30).
One rosé: Ch. Coussin, Côtes de Provence 2015 (Oddbins, £13.75); and whites: Sancerre La Moussière, Alphonse Mellot 2014 (Sainsbury’s, £18), and Alsace Kleinfels Riesling Cave de Beblenheim 2013 (Waitrose, £9.99).