More wine always seems like a good idea, but does that mean you want a bigger bottle? Read on and find out whether bigger wine bottles are always better.
While we don’t advocate binge drinking, sometimes you just need a lot of wine. Maybe you have a dinner party coming up or maybe you’re planning a vacation for you and your besties. Whatever the case, sometimes you just need MORE wine. If that’s the case, you should opt for the bigger wine bottles to save on space…right?
Well, that depends.
The size of wine bottles has changed over time. As we’ve learned more about wine aging processes, we’ve also discovered that the size of a bottle can actually influence the taste. Crazy, right?! So, before you reach for those economy-sized bottles of wine, read on and discover how the size of a wine bottle may influence its taste.
A Brief History of Wine Bottles
Don’t worry, we really will keep the history lesson as brief as possible. However, before jumping into the bigger vs. smaller debate, it helps to understand how wine bottles have evolved over time.
According to Bordeaux Magazine, people have been using wine bottles in some shape or form since 6000 B.C. Those definitely weren’t the sleek, glass bottles we’re used to today though. Ancient Georgian’s (from the country, not the state) created large pottery containers, known as kvevri, that were covered in beeswax. These were used to crush grapes in, age wine, and store wine. It was tricky to transport wine in these vessels though, which is where the Egyptian amphora had an advantage.
With two handles on either side, these were still fragile but much easier to transport. Another key difference between kvevri and amphorae was their spouts. The former had much shorter, larger openings. Amphorae, however, had longer, narrower spouts that greatly reduced oxygen exposure to the wine.
|If you’ve read our blog about Decanting Wine, you’ll know that wine and oxygen have a very special relationship. Hint: That information will become VERY important in just a second.|
Ancient Greeks also used amphorae, but they eventually moved away from clay stoppers in favor of cork to keep the wine from spoiling. Ancient Gaul is where the practice of storing wine in wooden barrels began. This is another innovation that made it much easier to transport wine. Considering the growing popularity of wine, it’s no surprise that people needed to find easier, safer ways to transport it across great distances.
It wasn’t until the 1600s that technology allowed for the creation of thicker, stronger glass that would eventually be used for wine bottles. By the early 1700s, however, people really started to play around with the sizes and shapes of wine bottles. The combination of glass bottles with cork stoppers gave vintners much more control over wine oxygenation. This made it much easier to control the aging process, which, as we know, has a massive impact on a wine’s aroma, flavors, tannins, and more.
Can the Size and Shape of a Wine Bottle Change the Taste?
Modern vintners control oxygenation as much as possible at every stage of the winemaking process (harvesting grapes, fermentation, and especially during the aging process). That’s because different compounds can be lost when exposed to oxygen. However, oxygen is also necessary during early fermentation to help yeast turn sugar into alcohol. Plus, it helps form other flavor-influencing compounds. In the end, oxygen is still a pivotal part of the winemaking process.
Earlier, we mentioned how amphorae had much narrower spouts than kvevri which helped reduce oxygenation. This difference in shape meant the wine inside these vessels was exposed to oxygen differently. That means different flavors, aromatic compounds, and more. So, yes, the shape of your wine bottle can absolutely change the taste of your wine. But what about the size of your wine bottles? Again, it all comes down to oxygen.
The French term “ouillage” (sometimes also called “ullage”) refers to the fill level in a bottle. Technically, this word has several meanings, but it mostly refers to the space between the surface of the wine and the cork. Cork is a porous wood that seals the bottle while also letting a small amount of air move in and out of the bottle. It also allows a small amount of liquid to evaporate over time. All this multitasking leads to higher ouillage levels which also means more oxygen.
Since bigger bottles generally have lower “ouillage,” less oxygenation takes place while bottle aging. So, yes, the size of your wine bottle influences the taste as well.
What does this mean for you?
Should You Purchase Bigger Wine Bottles or Smaller?
It depends on the type of wine you’re buying and whether you intend to store it or drink it in the near future.
If you plan to open and consume a relatively inexpensive bottle in just a few days, then it probably doesn’t matter too much. It’s already been in its bottle for some time, and a few more days won’t make too much difference. Plus, if it’s a young wine that’s not meant to age too much, then a smaller bottle you’ll open soon makes much more sense.
However, if you’re purchasing a wine you plan to store and drink further in the future, you may want to take more care. Since larger bottles don’t allow as much oxygenation, they’re well suited for wines that need to age. That being the case, if you’re looking for a Bordeaux, Port, or even a Merlot, it makes more sense to purchase a bigger bottle.
This is particularly important if you plan to purchase a special, more expensive, bottle of wine that you plan to drink soon. When purchasing wine that’s already been aged for several years, we recommend selecting the larger bottles. While they’ll be more expensive, they’ve also allowed the wine to age without as much oxygenation. Plus, larger wine bottles are generally made with thicker glass. That means the wine will undergo fewer temperature variations.
These are the types of decisions you’ll want to weigh carefully if you intend to become a wine collector, or even if you just want to collect a few bottles here and there.
Enjoy Your Wine Regardless of The Size of The Bottle
If you’re only concerned about bottle size because you want a bottle with more servings, that’s fine too. We’re not here to judge you for your wine preferences, we just love talking about wine!
Speaking of which, there are so many historical and cultural details that went into the evolution of the wine bottle. The details we mentioned are just a small part of its long, detailed history. If you’re just as fascinated as we are by all-things wine, be sure to follow us for updates and consider joining our growing community of wine enthusiasts by subscribing to our wine club!