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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Why do some types of wines tend to have differently shaped bottles than others?
—Steve R., New York
For most wine producers, the shape of the bottle is meant to communicate the style of wine to consumers, though some prefer to pick a bottle shape that will stand out instead.
In the 19th century, wine bottles developed into their basic shape and size—which, you’ll notice, makes it easy for wines to be stored horizontally. From there, three basic bottle shapes (and a bazillion variations) emerged. So-called “Bordeaux-style” bottles have straight sides and tall shoulders, and are typically used for wines using traditional Bordeaux grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. “Burgundy-style” bottles are slightly fatter, with more sloping shoulders, and are typically used for the traditional Burgundy grapes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as for Rhône-styled wines. The tall, thin bottle with subtly sloping shoulders is identified with the Alsace and Mosel regions, and with the Riesling grape.
Some theories as to how these shapes emerged include Bordeaux producers wanting a pronounced shoulder to trap sediment when pouring wine, or that glassblowers found it easier to make the Burgundy bottle. However they developed, it’s clear that to the vast majority of producers today, these three bottle shapes are a way to tell a wine lover what’s inside.
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