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Selecting the Right Wine Bottle April 03, 2019

Selecting the Right Wine Bottle by Erica Harrop -- In my last article about the importance of your vision for your wine’s brand, I mentioned I’d be writing up a couple of technical articles about key packaging components that contribute to realizing that vision. And your wine’s bottle should be your first consideration.

      Your wine’s bottle should be your first consideration. But even before that let’s ask “why use glass?” Glass is chosen by most wineries because it is inert, which means the wine is protected from oxygen contamination, which will degrade a wine. While some wineries are experimenting with wine in bags, boxes, or cans, glass continues to be the container of choice for most. I think drinking a cold, acidic liquid out of a can not only defies the entire aesthetic of wine—the pleasurable look, the aroma/bouquet, the mouth feel—metal can also impart a metallic aspect to the wine.

      The color of the glass is also very important, primarily for protection from ultraviolet light. And colors are not all created the same. The composition of the various minerals that make up a color can help the wine by protecting it from UV light and in storage. Although wine doesn’t “skunk” as readily as beer, it can change wonderful flavors to the worse due to the various organic compounds. Specifically, mercaptans (thiols) are a group of smelly compounds that are produced by hydrogen sulfide. Once mercaptans are formed in the wine, they are just waiting for oxygen and, when they get it, the result is undrinkable, with sulfide-induced aromas smelling like skunk or rotten onions.

      The different colors for glass bottles are achieved through various chemical additives, minerals, and reactions. For example: Blue bottles, rare in the wine industry, are a result of cobalt or copper being added to the liquid molten mixture; Green bottles are made with oxidized iron chromate being added to the liquid molten mixture; Brown, or amber, bottles offer the best protection from harmful ultraviolet radiation, which is why that color glass is most often used by beer brewers.

      Clear, or flint, glass is natural and colorless and helps show off the product stored inside. Some wineries are even using clear bottles to display the bright colors of synthetic corks that match their labels as a marketing ploy. However, clear glass offers no protection from light or UV radiation, so extra care must be taken in shipping, display, and storage. Champagnes are usually bottled in dark to medium green glass and are generally kept in a carton or wrapped in yellow wrap for added protection. In general, wines that are going to be consumed quickly — like a light, fruity white — can be bottled in clear glass. Wines that age longer, like reds, should almost always go in dark bottles.

      Like color, the shape of the bottle can help define the character and provenance of your wine. There are historical precedents for what wine goes with what bottle shape, although those restrictions are increasingly being challenged. Who decided that a Pinot has to be in a bottle with a soft shoulder? Or a Bordeaux has to have a hard shoulder? However, these conventional guidelines can help us identify regions and help educate our expectations.

      Bottle shapes are generally grouped into four categories: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Hock, and Specialty. You can check out each of these shapes on our website: www.globalpackage.net. The Bordeaux shape is usually matched with a more tannic, drier style of wine, such as a Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, as well as a couple of other grapes. If a consumer opened this type of wine in a burgundy bottle they would be most likely be unhappily surprised. While a Petite Sirah might come in a burgundy bottle, a young Bordeaux in a Bordeaux bottle will pleasurably meet both taste and aesthetic expectations.

      Similarly, when I think of a Burgundy shape, I think of a wine with floral, fruit, and luscious flavors, like a Pinot Noir, that is associated with a softer shoulder bottle. Anticipating a pleasurable wine-drinking experience should not be ruined by a mismatched bottle.

            It’s interesting to speculate where the wine glass industry is going in terms of packaging innovation, particularly vis a vis the Millennials, who have become a primary focus for nearly every industry. These consumers like to push the envelope, are more adventurous, and less risk averse. Some wineries are appealing to this demographic by packaging their wines in heavy, deep-punted bottles with an even wider body, which can upset not only the retailer trying to fit the bottle on his shelf, but also the fine-wine collector who has an expensive custom-built cellar that won’t accommodate the bigger bottles. I am not sure that every new brand deserves to be the initiator of a collector’s redesigned cellar! I saw a blue-bottled wine the other day and asked who it was for and was told that the Asian market loves it. Also, the industry is a bit concerned that the older generation is ageing out and may not be buying/collecting as much as in the past. So then who is buying?

      Here in the US, wine sales continue to rise year after year and are expected to continue this year, with domestic wines leading the charge. In fact, domestic producers are also growing, now up to 13,000 from 12,535 in 2017. While Baby Boomers may be buying less, other demographics are asserting their preference for wine over beer and spirits. The takeaway for wineries is to attract these new buyers with a captivating story about their vision and then to realize that vision with packaging that combines expectation with intrigue.

      For example, one of our clients, Clarice Wine Company, recently defied convention by using a screwcap on his Pinot wine bottle. I think it was a stroke of genius, given the industry trends toward ease of use and high quality. I can just imagine LeBron James opening a bottle of Clarice Pinot on his social media page, and easily recapping it after a glass. Buyers in the US want to have convenience and assured quality, and bottle selection plays a critical role in both.

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Endnote: For decades Global Package has provided stock and custom bottles for the premium and ultra-premium wine markets, creating new opportunities for wineries to build existing and new brands with adherence to the highest quality standards. With a wide selection of domestic bottles in stock and a specialization in European bottles, it can source higher-end bottles at very good pricing. Contact info@globalpackage.net or 707-224-5670. Global Package is located at 2793 Napa Valley Corporate Drive, Napa, CA 94558.