Wine Bottles and Bottle Stink
Although up to the present time the choice of a bottle for a particular drink has enabled a huge variety of shapes and colours to be put on the market, the situation tends to be towards standardisation, both because of regulations governing the size and type of bottle for certain drinks, when there are any traditions associated with these, and because variations in bottles are increasingly difficult to obtain. The big manufacturers of bottles – and the small glass firms are nowadays fewer in number than before the war – devote most of their production to bottles for chemical purposes and, above all, for beer. There is a wish to make all bottles of standard contenance, (about 26 fl oz (75cl) at the time of writing) no matter what shape, but this presents great problems. Winegrowers, shippers and spirit manufacturers who, for a century or more, have always been associated with certain types of bottles, rightly resent a move to do away with an individuality that makes it easy for the public to recognise their products at first glance. Also certain sizes have become accepted as suitable for certain liquids.
In addition, with wine it is virtually impossible to state that. because a bottle is a certain size, the contents will also be a certain exact amount: in bottling tiny variations inevitably occur, and while wines are being matured, some bottles may become ullaged. The amount of this can be negligible as far as the informed drinker of fine wine is concerned, but it would obviously be ridiculous for an estate-bottled wine, carefully matured for some years, to be rejected by the ignorant or even subjected to prosecution because it contained 1/2 fl. oz (15ml) less than its stated contents. If everything were bottled in one size of bottle, it might be possible to make an absolute ruling as regards permitted ullage, but clearly this state of affairs can never easily come to pass. although strenuous attempts at standardisation are being made within the EEC and elsewhere at the time of writing. Finally – which is often forgotten – the length of the cork, which also varies, takes up a varying amount of space, so when is a ‘full’ bottle full? Although until recently 26 fl. oz (75cl) was generally assumed to be the size of a ‘standard’ bottle, nowadays many table and fortified wines are put into 25 fl. oz (70cl) bottles.
As the following list of certain bottle sizes show, there are variations, often because of the shape of the bottle or, as with sparkling wines (which must have thicker bottles to resist the pressure inside), its thickness. Certain wines – such as Tokay and Chianti in a flask – are bottled in 17.5 fl. oz (50cl) and 35 fl. oz (1 litre) sizes respectively.
In the U. K. the standard Bordeaux and Burgundy bottles, filled to the cork, are accepted as ‘reputed quarts’. This means that a case of 12 bottles of wine is equal to 2 gals (9 litres), which affects the calculated duty.
Colours of bottles are also, in the wine regions, controlled; but there are variations of tone of glass. In general, the type of colour has a purpose – wines that need shielding from the light, either because they are delicate or because they are to be laid down for some time, are usually bottled in dark-coloured glass, whether green or brown. Inexpensive wines or those that are to be drunk while young and fresh, tend to be bottled in pale or clear glass. Regional traditions are strong; for example, all Rhine wines are bottled in brown glass, all Mosel in green. The more usual regional bottles, with their special names, will be found under their separate entries.
It is worth stressing that it is always difficult to identify a bottle exactly, simply by looking at it. For example, the type of bottle used for quality Chianti that can improve in bottle is the square-shouldered sort, like that used for Bordeaux red wines; the shoulders of the bottle made the shape a good one for binning in the days when bottles supported themselves like the arches of a cathedral, instead of being binned in racks, and the angle of the shoulder would hold back any deposit before it could rush into the glass or decanter. But anyone just looking at a Chianti bottle of this type – or that of a fine red Rioja – would find it virtually impossible to distinguish the exact variations in measurements (though these exist) that differentiate it from a Bordeaux bottle. The sloping-shouldered bottle of the Loire also looks similar to that of Burgundy, although it isn’t quite the same. This shape, and the elongated bottle used for German and some other wines, is one that has evolved for wines not usually long maturing in bottle or not throwing a very heavy deposit. They are more difficult to bin well in the traditional manner and, in general, sloping-shouldered bottles are for wines that seldom require long maturation or decanting. Large bottles, especially for cheap wines, are increasingly popular nowadays and the 35 fl. oz (1 litre) and 70 fl. oz (2 litre) are much used.
A Bordeaux jeroboam was 5 bottles until 1978. It is now 5 litres (6.67 bottles).
An imperiale (sometimes used for fine claret) is 3pt/1.75 litres.
A chiantigianna (for Chianti) Gallon (4.5 litre) jars or even larger sizes, in the form of demijohns or carboys, are also much used. Bottle age This term means the period a wine has spent in bottle, during which it undergoes certain changes and can develop to advantage. Few wines are at their best when first bottled, although some regain their original freshness within a matter of weeks or even days. However the finer wines usually benefit by maturation in bottle and many, such as the great clarets and vintage port, can live in bottle for a lifetime, should their vintage and the way they have been made be propitious. In general most wines benefit from some bottle age: even non-vintage Champagnes improve with 6 months’ additional maturation after the insertion of the second cork. Some small-scale wines improve likewise, but care should be taken not to leave them for long periods – most are made to be drunk while fairly young. Only experience and the advice of a wine merchant can provide reliable information about bottle age, but with any fine wine white as well as red – the chance to gain some age in bottle can be a definite advantage and improve the ultimate quality.
Term used to describe the rather stale, flat smell that sometimes comes off a wine immediately after the bottle has been opened – and that may, occasionally, give the impression that the wine is in some way ‘off. It is, in fact, the smell of the small amount of air that has been imprisoned in the bottle, maybe for a long time. Decanting will dissipate this or, if the wine is not to be decanted, leaving the cork drawn for a few minutes will allow the air from outside to get to the inside of the bottle and disperse the stale air. The cork can then be lightly replaced. It is advisable to do this with white wine as well – 5 or 10 minutes with the cork drawn, then replaced, can make a great difference to the initial impression made by some fine wines. Otherwise they may, at first pouring, seem dumb and dull. Many wines have been rejected as ‘corked’ because of the drinker being confused by a disappointing first sip. If a wine has to be tasted and either accepted or rejected immediately after the cork has been drawn – as can happen in a restaurant – then the taster should shake it around well in the glass, actually shaking it up as well as swinging it round, so as to air it as much as possible to get rid of any bottle stink before tasting. Ideally, after the wine waiter has presented the bottle, ask for the cork to be drawn at once and then, a few minutes later, request that the wine should be poured for appraisal. Not the same as corked.