History Of Glass Wine Bottles

By Elizabeth Scully

Unless you are purchasing cheap, boxed wines, you’ll be getting your wine in a standard-sized bottle that will be clear (for white wines) or some shade of green or occasionally brown (for most reds). Wines are sometimes fermented in bottles, but are often bottled after fermentation.

History

According to archaeologists, the Sumerians began drinking wine around 6000 BC around the Caspian Sea and in the lower regions of Mesopotamia. Made from grapes and dates, wine was originally stored in large pottery containers known as amphorae that had spouts sealed with leather, cork or clay. The pottery jugs were marked to indicate the year, maker and source of the vineyard.

The Romans were the first to store wine in both barrels, which they used for exporting the drink, and in glass bottles, which changed the way wine was stored and the length of time it could be aged. Though glass was first developed around 3000 BC, the Romans were the first to blow the substance into bottles, around 100 BC. By placing a lump of molten glass at the end of a long, hollow pole, they could blow air through the tube and create a bubble that could be shaped with tools. The technique used less glass and was a quick way to make bottles.

Effects

Because there was little uniformity in the size and shape of the bottles, people purchasing wine often didn’t know how much they were getting. At one point in the Roman Empire, people would bring their own bottles in and just pay for the amount measured and poured into those bottles.

As the Romans advanced their techniques, they eventually discovered that the easy-to-blow onion-shape bottles they typically created weren’t ideal for storing wine on its side, which helped it age and wet the cork. Thus, they began making longer, flatter bottles that were easier to carry and contained a standard amount — between .70 liters and .80 liters. This also helped standardize the amount of wine people purchased, though it wasn’t until the 1800s that glass blowers exacted this technique. In the late 20th century, both the United States and the European Union set requirements that all bottles hold exactly .75 liters.

Types

There are almost two-dozen sizes of wine bottles, many of which are named after kings from as far back as biblical times. Some of them include:
The Piccolo, which means “small” in Italian, and holds .1875 liters;
The Demi, which means “half” in French, and holds .375 liters;
The Fifth, which comes from “one-fifth” of the U.S. gallon, and holds .757 liters;
The Magnum, which contains 1.5 liters of wine;
The Marie Jeanne, which holds 2.25 liters of wine;
The Jeroboam was named after the biblical first king of the Northern Kingdom. It holds between 3 and 4.5 liters (the equivalent of four to six bottles).
The Salmanazar was named after a biblical Assyrian king and holds about 9 liters.
The Solomon, named after the biblical king of Israel, holds about 20 liters.

Expert Insight

Bottles come in various shapes that wine connoisseurs use to identify the types of wine inside. The shape also relates to the wine’s properties. Here are a few examples:

Burgundy (and often pinot noir and chardonnay) bottles are typically green, sturdier than other bottles, and they have a wider girth, sloped shoulders and a smaller punt (the deep indentation on the underside of the bottle).

Rhones are similar bottles that are slightly thinner, and some have a coat of arms on the neck.

Alsace, Rhine and Mosel bottles are narrower, taller and have almost no punt.

Champagne bottles have thick walls, a wide girth and a deep punt because the pressure inside the bottle is more significant than with other wine bottles.
Bordeaux bottles generally have straight sides and tall shoulders and can be clear for white wines or dark green for reds. Sherry, port and other fortified wine bottles are similar to Bordeaux bottles, but thicker. They also often have a bulging neck, which helps the sediment settle as the wine is decanted.

Considerations

Consider recycling your glass wine bottles rather than throwing them away. Glass can be recycled indefinitely, and America alone saves one ton of resources for every ton of glass recycled. Recycling also cuts mining waste significantly, reduces air pollution and saves energy used to make new glass.