James Laube and I have a standing joke. In our blind tastings, whenever we pour ourselves a sample from a bottle that feels heavy for its size, one of us is bound to mutter, "It must be a great wine. I can hardly lift it."
Of course, the rule of compensatory judgment suggests that we probably make it tougher on those wines, because it's almost like the wine is bragging. Nobody likes a showoff. Well, apparently, consumers do, because wineries use extra-heavy bottles to send exactly that message—that the wine must be really good, otherwise why would the vintner spend so much on a fancy container?
Lighter-weight bottles hold the wine just as well, in my experience, which is why I have grumped about big bottles before. On a personal level, I am convinced that pouring a day's worth of samples at tastings caused a painful case of tendinitis in my pouring elbow. I have learned to pour these wines two-handed.
I also hate it that heavy bottles often don't fit into my wine rack, and if they do fit they take up so much surrounding space that I can't squeeze another bottle in the slots above it or below it. Heavy bottles are also tall bottles, which means my tandem wine racks sometimes can't accommodate two of them back-to-front, as the racks were designed to do. It's also hard to lift a full case of those bottles. That may be one reason why so many of them come in 3- and 6-bottle packs. And here we thought it was the high bottle price.
It's also bad for the environment and the economy, because it wastes fuel to ship heavy bottles. Those big bottles can weigh more than 2 pounds, without the wine. A standard wine bottle comes in at less than a pound. It's on those grounds—that it's harmful to the environment—that the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Canada, informed its suppliers last week that it will no longer accept bottles that weigh more than 420 grams, at least for wines priced at $15 or less. (For the metrically challenged, the LCBO's limit translates to 14.8 ounces; the heaviest 750ml bottles weigh in at about 40 ounces.)
The LCBO's limit seems directed at moderately-priced négociant wines that pretend to be something more than they are. The extra costs do seem ridiculous, what with the attendant shipping costs and fuel waste, on a wine that doesn't aim for greatness.
Encouragingly, a few vintners are beginning to see the environmental light and are downsizing the thickness and height of their bottles. But many are convinced they must present a big-boned package if they ask big prices for the wine inside. One can only hope more will follow.
Follow Harvey Steiman on Twitter at twitter.com/harveywine.