This week, we continue our crash course on wine bottle shapes, from a bottle possibly named for a bovine’s nether regions, to fiascos, to the reason that champagne bottles are so thick.
More on that in a moment. But first, what’s really in the sediment at the bottom of your bottle?
This week, resident expert Julien Miquel teaches us about tannins… why they make your mouth feel dry… their surprising connection with the leather industry… the essential part they play in aging wine… and more…
The Ram’s Scrotum (Continued)
This flattened round flask-shaped bottle is permitted for wines from the German region of Franken and parts of the northern Ortenau region of Baden. Its use is also allowed for certain wines of Portugal (where it is called cantil), and a handful of Greek wines. The name Bocksbeutel is most likely derived from the Low German word for a pouch to carry prayer books (though a dictionary from 1690 translates the word as “ram’s scrotum,” a choice supported by the pendulous shape of the bottle).
Prince Grobhelm, via Wikimedia Commons
The Fiasco, literally translated as flask, was once popular in the Chianti region of Tuscany. Dating back to the 14th century, it has a round, bulbous body and bottom and is partially covered with a close-fitting straw basket. The basket is traditionally made from swamp reeds and was designed for a dual purpose of protecting the bottle during shipping and helping the rounded bottles stand up straight.
The Tuscan Fiasco
giulio nepi, via Wikimedia Commons
The fiasco fell out of popularity in the post war era. Consumers increasingly found them rustic and passé leading wineries to switch to the standard square shoulder (Bordeaux) bottle. Additionally, as wages rose, the cost of weaving the baskets began to exceed the cost of making the wine. Even as the tradition waned in Italy, it remained popular in Argentina into the 1980s, having been introduced by Italian immigrants there in the late 19th century.
Champagne bottles are a variation on the Burgundy design (see last week’s issue). The glass is thicker since it needs to withstand pressures of 5 to 6 atmospheres. It may surprise you to know that the mushroom shaped corks start off cylindrical. The cork discs on the bottom of the cork are more elastic than the granules that make up the upper part of the cork, which enables the cork to be inserted before being held in place with a wire cap.
A champagne cork before insertion (notice the elastic cork discs at the bottom and the granules at the top)
Olivier Colas, via Wikimedia Commons
The clavelin is a peculiar, squat shaped bottle with a capacity of 62 centiliters (the standard wine bottle holds 75 cl). Its use is obligatory for vin jaune in the Jura region of France (a nutty yellow wine from the savagnin grape, a relative of traminer). The 62cl capacity is what remains of a liter of vin jaune following an obligatory six years of cask aging under a “veil” of yeast (the veil, or voile in French, forms a near partial seal against oxidation, protecting the wine from spoilage while allowing just enough oxidation to develop vin jaune’s distinctive flavor profile).
A clavelin bottle containing vin jaune (to be enjoyed with Comté cheese)
Arnaud 25, via Wikimedia Commons
Until next week,
The Wine Explorer