Size and shape matters

by Wine Bluffer


A standard wine bottle contains 750ml of wine, which equates to six 125ml glasses of wine, the type that typically – and throughout history – have been found in simple Italian restaurants or osterie.

But while the origin of this wine bottle sizing – introduced into European legislation in 1975 – is lost in the mists of time, there are a few theories. One is that 750ml is the metric equivalent of a glassblower’s lungful of air. Back in the 18th century, bottles were blown individually by hand…or should I say by mouth?!

Another theory is that a case of wine in British terms contained two imperial gallons and that twelve 750ml bottles is the nearest conversion of that measurement. At least that may explain why there are 12 bottles in a case, but back then wasn’t everything sold in dozens anyway?

None the wiser? No, I thought not. And have you wondered about wine bottle shapes and why they differ?

There are three main bottle shapes. Burgundy bottles come in a beautifully slope shouldered design. This is the grandfather of wine bottles, the first to be produced and easiest for a glassblower to make. Like Bordeaux bottles – which by contrast have a cylindrical and straight shoulder – they have a punt or dimple in the bottom which is a reinforcement vital for strength. This was important, especially for Bordeaux which went straight out into the lumpy Bay of Biscay to sate the English appetite for ‘clairette’, or claret as we now know it. Bordeaux wines are also fuller than Burgundies and some say that the more acute shoulder helps to separate the sediment when pouring, others that the shape was simply to distinguish bottles from their inland cousins.

Whatever to that, Alsace and most German wine comes in a flat-bottomed flute shape. Here the reinforcing punt was not needed as the main trade route out of these regions was via barges slipping smoothly along the Rhine. The Alsace bottle shape was also found to be ideal for maximising packing efficiency in crates that fitted into the holds of these barges.

Nowadays these precautions are no longer necessary but traditions persist, and who among us would have it any other way? Although I have heard that some very good wine is to be found in cardboard boxes lined with a plastic bag. And guess what, these usually contain 2.25 litres, now what would we call that? A magnum and a half? Go figure!

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