How Wines are Bottled and Packaged FAQs
Q. Why is wine put into glass bottles stoppered with corks?
A. Glass imparts no flavour to the wine and the cork, if kept wet, provides an airtight seal that can last for at least 30 years (after which some great chateaux carefully re-cork their wines).
Q. Will wine from a box, can or plastic bottle taste worse than glass-bottled?
A. Provided the wine does not stay in any of these materials for more than a few months there should be no ill effects. Wine boxes contain self-deflating foil pouches with taps operated by valves that let in no air to spoil the wine. In theory, wine should keep for four months in these boxes. In fact, the technology is still being developed and one or two months seem a safer current maximum.
Q. What clues are given by the shape of a bottle?
A. Probably the most common bottle shape is that shown in A, B and C below, for Burgundy, Loire, Rhone, Burgundy-style Rioja and many other wines around the world, especially those based on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.
Any wine from Bordeaux (D, E), a claret-style Rioja (F), most Italian wines, and many wines based on Cabernet-Sauvignon grapes (G) grown around the world come in bottles with a characteristic shoulder.
The height of the German bottle (J) has been reduced over the years to accommodate space-conscious retailers. Most wines based on Germanic grape varieties, such as English wine (L), are put into this shape. Alsace winemakers use a taller version (K).
Q. What clues are given by the colour of glass?
A. Very dark glass is in general used for very fine wines designed for a long life, such as vintage port, great claret and great Italian reds. Most bottles come in various shades of green, with fine white Burgundy being most often bottled in a lovely yellow-green colour the French call feuille morte or ‘dead leaf. Brown glass is commonly used by the Italians. If a German bottle is green it will usually contain Mosel, and if it is brown it will contain Rhine wine or hock from a region such as the Rheingau, Rheinhessen or Rheinpfalz. If a white Bordeaux is put into green glass it will usually be dry, while the sweet ones such as Sauternes are usually bottled in clear glass.
Q. What size is the average wine bottle?
A. 70cl and 75 cl are the most common capacities and these should always be marked on the label. Most American, Australian and South African bottlers use the larger size (more generous by all of seven per cent) and their counterparts elsewhere are being urged to do so.
Q. Are bigger bottles always better value?
A. No. Bottles containing 1.5 litres or the equivalent of two bottles are known as magnums and carry a supplement if they contain fine wine because this is thought to be the optimum size for maturation. Wine matures faster in a smaller container, so half-bottles should be drunk before bottles. They are not cheap though because of the extra labour and material costs involved. However, good retailers will normally offer their customers some financial incentive to buy larger bottles of most basic wines.