You may think the shape is only a cosmetic matter, but reality is much more complex. Bottle shapes actually depend on regions the wine is coming from! It is a simple means for winemakers to differentiate themselves from foreign wine, but also highlight their authentic approach. (Learn more about French regions with our Wine Guide)
For a start, let’s note that wine bottles were created during Middle Ages - the “golden age” of wine production. Wine was stored in wooden barrels, kept in cellars. Wine ageing did not exist back then, as everything was consumed within one year following the harvest - wine was a healthy business.
Economic crisis then happened in England, the first French wine consumer, impacting purchasing power and therefore reducing imports. Being able to keep unsold wine for longer became critical.
Many methods and techniques were tried such as “ouillage” (replacing evaporated wine into barrels to prevent air from oxidising wine), but the bottle was only invented during the 17th century by a British diplomat, sir Kenelm. The bottleneck was reinforced to solidify the top and avoid breakage during bottling - done with a hammer back then. Bottling techniques have evolved since, but the reinforced bottleneck is still useful. The use of the 75cl glass bottle really spread out from 1800’s given all its advantages - longer ageing, but also easier storage and transport. If you want to learn more read our Why a bottle of wine contains 75cl?
Several shapes were then created in France in different regions to allow producers to differentiate themselves. Here is a summary of what you can find today:
Created in Burgundy at the end of the 17th century, it is a tall bottle with smooth shoulders and a thin neck - also called “Feuille morte” (dead leave) for its colour.
Coming from Bordeaux, it is the most common shape in the world. Originally looking like a cone, it became cylindrical for more solidity and production ease. The squared shoulders are very useful to keep wine sediments.
The Flûte d’Alsace
Legally protected since 1955, it is exclusively used for wines produce in the Alsace region. Thin, elegant and shoulderless, this is the tallest bottle on the market.
Very similar to the Bourguignonne and the Ligérienne with smooth shoulders and a thin neck, the main difference is the engraving, upon bottling, of the “Côtes du Rhône” mention or other acronyms. Most producers in the Rhône area use this bottle today..
Coming from the Loire Valley, it looks like the Bourguignonne with thin shoulders and neck - but is even thinner.
The Provence region actually have two types of bottles - the « la flûte à corset » with a tight base, and the « Côtes de Provence » which is more straight.
This is a relatively small bottle with a large body and a thin neck - and is exclusive to “vins jaunes” from Jura. Note the different capacity - 62cl instead of 75.
Kind of a Rhodanienne with a longer neck, this bottle is the most solid one to face pressure coming from Champagne bubbles. The bottom is slightly bent for the same reason, but also to allow the “service à la champenoise” - with the thumb below the bottle.
Your conclusion is probably that you can guess the origin of a wine simply looking at the bottle shape. This is true only for French wine. No rule exists in other countries, where you can find pretty much anything anywhere - producers use different shape for marketing purposes.
The most widespread bottle is the Bordelaise. Broadly used in the South West and the Languedoc area, you’ll also find it in South Africa, Chilu, US or Italy. The bourguignonne is relatively rare, but quite present in New Zealand.
Now you know everything about bottle shapes, take a look on our online shop and try to recognise the origin of each bottle. And if you prefer real experience vs theory, pick a few bottles - for you or for friends, any occasion is valid to drink nice wine!