Wine wisdom

Riesling, deconstructed.

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Struggling to fit that Riesling in your fridge? There’s a reason it’s that size! 

That tall, elegant bottle is an Alsace (named after the French wine region) or Germanic bottle. This shape was traditionally used in regions around the Rhine because transport along the river was smooth, so bottles didn’t have to be robust. They were made long and thin to pack more into shipping crates to fit on the narrow boats.

The Burgundy bottle, however, is a little more robust, a little more rounded. Used mostly for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wines as well as Pinot Noir and Gamay (Beaujolais), it was the first glass wine bottle to be mass produced. Being sent further afield meant that it needed to be sturdy enough to withstand bumpy loading and unloading, hence the chunky bottom. The elegant shape? Well, that’s simple. It’s easier for glassblowers to blow.

More sturdy still is the strong-shouldered Bordeaux bottle. Tall and thin with a neck that sprouts from a cylinder vessel, you’ll find many Bordeaux wines in this shape — of course — so think Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon as your main grape varieties here. For a long time people have believed that the shoulders on this bottle are there to catch sediment thrown by the big Bordelaise wines as they age respectfully. Perhaps that’s true. Or it might be a stylistic thing. We’ll never really know.

Pop a Champagne bottle and you’ll feel the weight of thick glass. It’s not just for aesthetics. This heaviness is needed to withstand the pressure of the wine’s natural carbonation as it builds within the bottle — up to 5 or 6 atmospheres.

Round bottles with handles or in wicker cases like Chianti’s Fiasco aren’t rustic for rusticity’s sake. Rounder shapes are easier for glassblowers to make, and because they didn’t need to spend time making flat bottoms, they were cheaper too.

If you’re a Port fan, you might have noticed a ledge or “bulb” in the neck of every port bottle. This, like the Bordeaux bottle, is thought to catch sediment as you pour. But that doesn’t work if you slosh — be careful!


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