The standard wine bottle worldwide is 750 milliliters (ml) or 25.4 ounces. How did we arrive at that size? Starting with the 1973 vintage, the world’s nations agreed that the “standard bottle” would be 750ml in size, and a standard case of wine would be 9.0L.
Before this agreement, American wine bottle sizes were 4/5 pint, 4/5 quart (25.6 ounces), ½ gallon, and 1 gallon. Today, bottles are 50ml (miniatures), 187ml, 375ml (half-bottle), 750 ml (bottle), 1.5L (magnum); 3.0L (double magnum in America and Bordeaux, and Jeroboam in Champagne, Burgundy, and Rhone); 6.0L (Imperiale in America and Bordeaux, and Methuselah in Champagne, Burgundy, and Rhone); and 9.0L (Salmanazar).
In the 16th and 17th centuries, wine bottles were made by hand by glass blowers. A typical glass blower’s lung capacity was about 750ml using one breath to create a bottle. So the average size of wine bottles is related to the average lung capacity of European glass blowers 400 to 500 years ago.
Wine bottle shapes have evolved through the years. By the 18th century, different wine regions of Europe invented signature-style bottles to mark their territory as well as adjust for the needs of their particular wines. For example, the Burgundy bottle is styled with a tapered neck since the Burgundy vignerons didn’t need a trap for dregs like their Bordeaux compatriots whose bottle was designed with stern shoulders to trap sediment that often formed in Bordeaux wines.
There are basically five main wine bottle shapes, and today they have nothing to do with wine quality or age ability. The tall, slender “hock” bottle has a long narrow neck and is typically used for German wines such as riesling and gewürztraminer. The masculine-styled bottle with straight sides and high, cut shoulders is classically used for wines from the Bordeaux region of France including cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. The heavier, wider, shapelier bottle with sloping shoulders is used in Burgundy for pinot noir and chardonnay. The French Rhône bottle is similar to the Burgundy bottle, but has round and smooth shoulders, a slimmer circumference and may have a decorative mark on the neck. The Italian chianti bottle, known as a fiasco, has a flat bottom, wide body, and sometimes a fitted straw skirt.
Champagne or sparkling wine bottles are made of thicker glass to resist the pressure inside the bottled caused by carbon dioxide carbonation. The sloping shoulders and large punt or dimple on the bottom contribute to the structural strength of the bottle and help balance the gas.
The punt or dimple is a deep indentation on a bottle’s bottom. Except for Champagne and sparkling wines, punts are not needed, but many producers keep them for tradition. Punts date to the time glass blowers produced bottles by hand using a wood stick to hold the glass from the neck end. After forming the bottle, the glass blower pulled out the stick, creating a punched-in bottom.
A British study found that it’s possible to determine the value of a bottle of wine by feeling the depth of its dimple. More expensive wines generally have deeper dimples. When you’re at a party, you can amaze the crowd by feeling the depth of a bottle’s dimple with your index and middle fingers, to determine the most expensive wines—likewise, at your local wine retailer. Just don’t overdo it or people might think you’re some kind of weirdo.