Wine 101 | Bottle Shapes / by Christine Davis

Christine Davis has traveled extensively and explored the world of wine and food. Christine shares those adventures in her blog eatingfrench. You can also follow Christine on Twitter and Instagram.

While at a dinner party, we played a game with friends: If you were a wine, what would you be? A woman, no less, said to me, "You would be a Burgundy, because you are feminine and elegant." Obviously, this was meant to be a compliment, but what did she mean? We naturally assign human qualities to just about everything, as we are self-centered beings, and many wine descriptors are gender stereotypes. Heavier wines with notable tannins are called muscular, structured, powerful, and firm; those that are lighter-bodied are described as delicate, supple, smooth, and soft. Cabernet Sauvignon is considered to be a masculine varietal, Pinot Noir a feminine one.

Maybe wine bottles are particularly anthropomorphic because they stand upright; we even give them shoulders. Wine bottle shapes were standardized in the nineteenth century along two lines—the Burgundy, low-shouldered shape and the Bordeaux, high-shouldered variety. Bordeaux varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc, whether they are from Bordeaux or elsewhere, come in the taller, straighter bottle. Burgundy wines, including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are bottled in the sloping-shouldered, curvaceous container (this category would also comprise the elongated style used for Riesling). One theory is that this was meant to distinguish between the two regions originally. Whatever the reason, one cannot deny the associations. Of course, there are exceptions to these generalizations. Take, for example, Syrah, which is grown in the Rhône valley in France and is bottled in the low-shouldered vessel; but in Australia, where the same grape is named Shiraz, the high-shouldered one is used.

Returning to our game, I started to wonder if my friend thinks I'm demure and aloof, which is just not me. But all I have to do is open a voluptuous bottle of Pommard, and my identity is redeemed. It is bold and approachable, the way I like to label myself...