What is the significance of the different shapes of wine bottles?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is the significance of the different shapes of wine bottles? Pinot Noir has the fat bulb style; Cabernet Sauvignon has the "typical" shape; Port has what I describe as a "rum bottle" shape; and Rieslings have long, tapered necks. Are these differences just another way of identifying a wine?

—Jonah D., Los Angeles, Calif.

Dear Jonah,

You picked up on one of the biggest reasons all those shapes have remained over the years: They help indicate what sort of wine is inside. There are three main shapes and an infinite amount of variations; most date to the 19th century and have stuck around to this day because of their usefulness in letting wine lovers know what’s inside, at least most of the time.

You’ll notice the basic design of all wine bottles makes it easy for them to be stored horizontally. “Bordeaux-style” bottles have the straight sides and tall shoulders and what you’d expect to see wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in. “Burgundy-style” bottles are slightly fatter, with more sloping shoulders, and used for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as Rhône-style wines; these are similar to the shape of bottles used for sparkling wine like Champagne, though those bubbly bottles tend to be thick and heavy to deal with the pressure inside. The tall, thin bottles with subtly sloping shoulders are identified with the wines of the Alsace and Mosel regions of France and Germany, respectively, and grapes like Riesling and Gewürztraminer. You’re right that Port bottles have a distinctive shape—it’s very similar to the Bordeaux bottle, but stouter, with a bulb in the neck, which is thought to help trap sediment.

—Dr. Vinny

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