Have you noticed how many different wine bottle sizes and shapes there are in the market today? Traditional bottles from the major European wine regions remain in the majority, but who knows how long that will be the case. After a great late-night discussion at the recent Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association (TWGGA) Conference in San Marcos, TX, over several bottles of wine, of course, I decided to weigh in on this subject. I currently have a number of wines from several different wineries that just will NOT fit into the standard wine rack slots in my wine cellar. It is not my intent to do a “rant,” but rather to voice my concerns about the direction wineries seem to be headed as they package their products in larger and larger bottles.
Pretty much everyone knows that packaging has a lot to do with the attractiveness of a product on the retail shelf, and can have a major impact on its sale. Marketing studies have suggested that more than 50% of all wines sold in the U.S. are purchased by women who are not specifically shopping for wine. The color, design and style of the label, as well as the capsule, and perhaps bottle shape, helps to draw attention to a particular wine that sits on the retail shelf with many, many other bottles. How does a potential buyer distinguish which bottle goes into the shopping cart to pair with tonight’s supper? Without prior experience related to a particular brand or type of wine, surely the packaging can influence the final selection and purchase.
With the years that I have spent in the wine industry, growing grapes, making wine, selling wine, serving wine, as well as purchasing and cellaring wine, my outlook when confronted with a large number of wine selections on the retail shelf is likely different than most customers. Having carefully and successfully studied the wine regions of the world, and tasted thousands of wines in the past, it is easier for me to recognize countries, regions, producers, grape varieties, and the more successful vintages. Without such prior knowledge and background, it certainly makes sense that packaging will play an important role when consumers select a wine at retail.
What I have noticed in the past few years is the proliferation of larger and larger bottle sizes. They are all designed to contain the standard 750 mL volume of wine, but the thickness of glass, the depth of the “punt,” and the overall diameter of the bottle can sometimes cause an issue when trying to store the wine in a standard wine rack, a commercial wine refrigerator, or a custom cellar. Here I will illustrate with some photos and dimensions of wine bottles that are currently stored in my wine cellar, either in the rack spaces, or somewhere else since certain bottles do not fit in the racks. Note that most commercial wooden or heavy wire racks have a square opening of 3 1/4 by 3 1/4 inches. Thus, the bottle diameter should be less than that in order to fit comfortably. Only special racks designed for larger bottles, like Champagnes or sparkling wines, have larger openings.
Let’s start with the most common, traditional bottle types. First comes the standard Bordeaux style bottle used for many wines around the world, including those blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot from the famous Bordeaux wine region of western France. A large number of California wines, both red and white, are also packaged in this style bottle, one that I like to call the “skinny bottle” (see #1 in the photo). Because this bottle size and shape has such a strong global tradition, red and white wines from many of the world’s top regions, like Italy, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Texas are also packaged in skinny bottles. The typical dimensions of this bottle are 11 3/4 inches tall by 9 5/8 inches in circumference. This makes the diameter about 3.1 inches, which will fit comfortably into most every wine rack or refrigerator.
The second most popular and traditional bottle type is the Burgundy bottle used most often to package wines like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the primary varieties of the Burgundy region of northeast France. This bottle I lovingly refer to as the “fat bottle,” because it has a broader profile and a slope shoulder shape (see #2 in the photo). The typical dimensions of this bottle are 11 3/4 inches tall by 10 1/4 inches in circumference (3 1/4 inches in diameter – just the width of most wine rack openings). Many wines from around the world are also packaged in fat bottles, like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Rhone varieties and blends. Based on the fact that my favorite wine is Chardonnay, my favorite red is Pinot Noir, and I have a deep fondness for Rhone wines (think Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, etc.), I have had a great deal of experience with the storage of fat bottles. Most of the time these bottles will fit into commercial wine racks and refrigerators. However, sometimes one has to juggle things to get them all to fit, but it is usually manageable.
The third most popular and traditional bottle type is the tall, slender container most often used to package the wines of Germany, Austria, and the French regions of Alsace and Loire Valley. The typical dimensions of this bottle are 13 3/4 inches tall by 9 1/2 to 9 3/4 inches in circumference (about 3.1 inches in diameter -see #3 in the photo). Wines produced from Riesling, Gewürztraminers, Chenin Blanc, and Grüner Veltliner are most often packaged in this style of bottle. While the diameter of the bottles allows them to fit in almost any wine rack, the length can sometimes be an issue as it will stick out beyond the rack further than the two bottle types noted above. This is usually okay in a rack, cellar, or refrigerator, but sometimes it is necessary to do some shifting of bottle types so they mesh well in the space available.
Now things get more interesting, and sometimes more aggravating. In place of the skinny Bordeaux bottle, many producers are opting for bottles that are either thicker with greater diameter, or have a variable profile shape where the diameter increases from the bottom to the shoulder of the bottle. Most of these bottles will still fit into a normal wine rack, but can sometimes be a problem with a wine refrigerator, especially one with slide in-and-out shelves. These bottles are certainly more noticeable on a retail shelf, and they are most often used to package a winery’s more expensive wines – since these bottles cost more, of course.
The next bottle variation causes even bigger storage problems. Many producers have taken the fat bottle and fattened it up even more. A number of higher end Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and specialty wines produced from Rhone varieties, as well as Italian varieties, have opted to use these enhanced fat bottles. The typical dimensions of these bottles are 11 3/4 to 12 1/4 inches tall by 10 3/4 to 11 inches in circumference (about 3 1/2 inches in diameter – see #4 and #5 in the photo). The punt, or indented space in the bottom of these bottles, is very pronounced and the glass is thicker. This keeps the height of the bottles not too different from the standard fat bottle, while maintaining the internal volume at 750 mL. Three of my favorite Chardonnay and Pinot Noir producers from Oregon now use these larger bottles, and only certain rack spaces in my cellar can hold them.
Finally, there is a trend to produce even more distinct and oversized bottle shapes that just do not fit in any wine rack. Typical dimensions of these bottles are 11 inches tall by 11 5/8 to 11 3/4 inches in circumference (about 3 3/4 inches in diameter – see #6 in the photo). Again, the punt is very pronounced and the glass is thicker to keep the height of the bottles not too different from the standard fat bottle, while maintaining the internal volume at 750 mL. These bottles do not fit in any wine rack that I own, because the bottle diameter is greater than the corresponding opening in the rack. These bottles will sometimes fit into a wine refrigerator, but may require significant manipulation to get the slide in-and-out drawers to open and close without scraping the bottle labels. Even though such bottles cause me grief when trying to find storage space in my cellar, I like the wines so much that I continue to purchase them. Someday I may have to custom design and build rack space for these jumbo babies, just because I enjoy drinking them so very much.
To summarize in table form, here are the typical dimensions of the bottles described above. Remember that the standard wine rack will have an opening 3 1/4 by 3 1/4 inches wide, which certainly presents a storage challenge for the larger bottles.
|Type of Bottle||Inches Tall||Inches in Circumference||Inches in Diameter|
|#1 Bordeaux “Skinny Bottle”||11 3/4||9 5/8||3.1|
|#2 Burgundy “Fat Bottle”||11 3/4||10 1/4||3 1/4|
|#3 German Tall Bottle||13 3/4||9 1/2 to 9 3/4||3.1|
|#4 & #5 Enhanced “Fat Bottle”||11 3/4 to 12 1/4||10 3/4 to 11||3 1/2|
|#6 “Jumbo” Fat Bottle||11||11 5/8 to 11 3/4||3 3/4|
To close this blog post, it would be fair to say that Texas wine producers are taking notice of this trend to larger and less traditional bottle shapes. Texas wines are beginning to show up in bottles that are more difficult to store in conventional wine racks and refrigerators. While certainly not one to rain on anyone’s marketing efforts, I sure hope that these jumbo bottles do not become the norm for the Texas wines I most enjoy, because that would limit the number of them I can purchase and store in my cellar. Just sayin’.