When you stand in front of a shelf packed with bottles of wine it initially looks like a bit of a jumble. Packaging of all colour, glass of all shapes, plain or colourful labels and different closures. But, look a bit deeper and pattern begins to emerge. There are, in fact, a few bottle shapes that are routinely used by wine makers (and marketeers) to give clues to the sort of wine they contain.
Let’s use one classic shape as an example; the flute. This tall, elegant, long necked bottle is usually green or brown rather than clear and wine in these bottles looks distinctly German. And for good reason, since much German white wine does indeed come in bottles of this shape. Wine from the French region of Alsace is also legally required to come in this bottle shape. All of that could be put down to tradition. But, what is more interesting is that winemakers in Chile, Australia and all over the place use this bottle shape when they are making a wine in a German or Alsace style.
So, the flute bottle shape has become a highly reliable clue that the wine it contains will be fruity, un-oaked, aromatic, possibly sweet and probably made from grapes like Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris.
This is a really useful idea and is a big help in decoding that pile of bottles you find on the shelf. Here then is a list of other shapes you will find and what they are likely to mean; a spotters guide to wine.
Bordeaux. After the flute this is perhaps the most recognisable with its high shoulders and parallel sides. So, the wine within is likely to be a blend of Bordeaux grapes; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. As such it is likely to be medium bodied, strongly flavoured, fairly fresh and with quite a lot of chewy tannin. Perfect with hearty food, less good on it’s own. Good quality Chianti now also comes in these – perhaps because it shares some of these characteristics.
Burgundy. Wine in Burgundy is generally either white from Chardonnay or red from Pinot Noir. So, this round-shouldered bottle is a good indicator that a wine will be this style. Chardonnay is famously malleable so its flavours will range from citrus through to tropical, but in this shaped bottle it is also likely to see some oak. The red Pinot Noirs should have a generally light body and colour, bright fruit and a lovely aromatic freshness.
Rhone. These bottles are troublingly similar to the Burgundy bottle but are usually a little heavier and may have an embossed crest or text, with names like Chateauneuf, Gigondas, Lirac or good old Cotes du Rhone. Rhone wines we find in the UK are generally red and made from blends of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignan. They are usually ripe, often spicy and often quite plump and soft. A good safe bet on many occasions.
Malbec. This macho, broad shouldered bottle is, perhaps, just emerging as a style, but increasingly Argentinian Malbec is to be found in these bottles. The bottle is a visual metaphor for this punchy, bold and food friendly style. You may also find Californian wine in this bottle shape, but again the wine is likely to be full bodied, full flavoured, ripe and rich. Let’s just hope it is not as tiring as the machismo it represents.
There are also a few wines that have their own highly specific bottle shapes, but that don’t represent a wider style. Provence has a unique, clear glass skittle shaped bottle, Picpoul de Pinet an embossed green flute shape. Barolo is similar to the Burgundy bottle but with a reverse curve in the neck. Muscadet has a bottle with distinct corners in the neck and is usually embossed.
A few final words of caution though. Since winemakers are a disparate, ungovernable, independent minded group if ever there was one, there will be many, many exceptions to these rules. Also, lots of places make styles that don’t fit these broad categories, all of Italy for example. Well, at least we tried.