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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Wine bottles -- why do we use them?

When you think about it, the standard wine bottle is somewhat impractical and even kind of goofy. It can still be in use only because of tradition, not because it's what works best.

Glass Bottle

Wine bottles first appeared in the 18th century. Until then wine was kept in bulk, as in a barrel or something similar, then maybe transferred to an individual's leather wine pouch.

Glass bottles are fairly good on the environment as far as recycling, but the manufacturing process isn't totally earth-friendly. They are costly to produce compared to other containers, they're breakable, and heavy. Being relatively heavy means they are costly to ship. Many bottles are heavier than they need to be. Some wineries purposely buy thicker glass for expensive wines as somehow a heavy bottle means better wine. All it really means is it costs more to produce and ship.

Most wine bottles have a "punt" in the bottle--that's the dimple thing in the bottom. Wines without the punt are considered cheap, too. The reason for the punt? Beats me, though there are several theories given with the most common being it adds strength to the bottle. And the punt is somewhere for the wine server to put his thumb when doing a fancy pour. Personally, I never trusted myself to pour wine like that safely. Also, the bigger the punt the better the wine, right?

What's wrong with glass besides being heavy for picking up or shipping and the potential for breakage? You can see why shipping wine is probably a bit of a nightmare for UPS and FDX. Bottles also let in light and it happens that sunlight is the enemy of wine. Light can cause chemical changes to wine affecting the mouthfeel and flavors. That's why many producers use dark-tinted glass to help prevent this.

Foil

A foil is usually a tin or plastic capsule covering the neck and cork. So maybe they look nice, but are totally unnecessary and they don't get recycled.

Cork

This is the worst part of the entire package. Why is cork still the wine bottle closure of choice? With all the potential problems there's no reason for this to be used except for tradition.  Oh yeah, and so the restaurants can charge you a corkage fee. If everything was under a screw cap it'd be a screwage fee. And if they're charging you over fifteen bucks it definitely is a screwage fee.

Corks don't always seal well, are susceptible to cork taint (called a corked wine), and are a pain to remove from the bottle then a pain to reseal. Screw caps are better in all these respects. So why don't all wine use a screw cap closure? Because American consumers think it means a cheap wine.

What looks better?

Thinking about buying wine in a store and choosing between two similarly priced bottles which of these would you choose?  This first one is in a thin, lightweight, flat-bottomed glass bottle with a screw cap and the other in a heavy glass bottle with a punt, a cork, and a tin foil on top. Or what if you saw a $50 Napa Cabernet in a box? OMG!

So what else is there?
Wine in a Tetra Pak
with a straw!
Image from decanter.com


There are bags in a box, but box wines are for cheap wines, or so the common wisdom goes. There are paper-based recyclable boxes. These are friendlier on the environment, don't let in light, don't break, are cheap to ship, and easy to open.  So yeah, they are superior to a glass bottle with a cork in every way. There are a few people experimenting in the marketplace with these to judge consumer reaction.