Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Shape Up!

What shape do you find attractive? Tall and slender like Kate Moss, round and curvy like Sophia Loren, broad shouldered and athletic like Serena Williams or explosive with a little extra junk in the trunk like Jennifer Lopez? (It's not that I am into women, but I can't think of any distinctive male examples.)

Hint: We are not talking body types (somatotypes), but wine.

Have you ever wondered why wine bottles are different shapes? Many times, you can tell a wine bottle's contents from its shape.

First some history. 7000 years ago in Egypt, wine was stored in two-handled containers, usually clay, called amphorae. Glass was a major step forward because it's inert, neutral in flavor, and was much better at preventing oxidation when well sealed. In the late 17th century, glass making technology advanced and uniformly-sized neck bottles could be consistently produced to fit a cork stopper.

Around the beginning of the 19th century, different regions began to adopt their own bottle shapes, and they're the same ones we use today. The most common bottle shapes are:

The Bordeaux Bottle:

This high-shouldered bottle may have derived its shape from the fact that older red Bordeaux varietals often have sediment settled at the bottom. When the wine is either decanted or poured into glasses, the shoulder of the bottle helps to trap sediment particles and prevents them from escaping with the good wine. All red Bordeaux wines are to be found in green glass, while all white Bordeaux varietals are to be found in clear glass (with a few exceptions in green), but both have the distinctive high shoulders. Grape varieties found in these bottles are usually Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. (Think Serena Williams)

The Burgundy Bottle

This elegant, sloping-shouldered bottle, with a fairly wide body can contain either red or white wine. In both France and California, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the classic varietals bottled in this shape. Pinot Noir is usually found in green glass while Chardonnay may be found in either green or clear glass. In California, Chenin Blanc and Rhone varietals are also usually bottled in this shape. (Think Sophia Loren)

The Champagne Bottle

This large, thick-walled and tall-necked bottle has evolved into the ideal shape for storing sparkling wine under tremendous gas pressure. All Champagne and other sparkling wine bottles have a recess or indentation in the bottom of the bottle. For wine stored under tremendous gas pressure, this is essential because it relieves the pressure on the bottom of the bottle. Without the punt (or kick, as it is also called) the bottle might well blow out at the bottom. (Think Jlo)

The German, Alsatian and Dessert Wine Bottle

Many dessert wines made in California are bottled in long-necked bottles that resembles the bottles of Alsace and the Mosel and Rhine wines of Germany. Color plays an important part in distinguishing the wines, too, for all Rhine wines are bottled in brown glass, while all Mosels are bottled in green. In California, the glass may be green, brown or clear. (Yup, you guessed it! Kate Moss)

Next time you are shopping for wine, guess the variety by the shape of the bottle or amaze your friends by "feeling up" the covered bottle at your next blind tasting.