Wine time: Tradition rules in bottle color

April 23, 2013 

As you’ve wandered through the aisles of a wine shop, have you ever noticed the variety of colors of the wine bottles – and wondered if there’s any significance to them?

Basically the bottles will be green, amber or clear, but you’ll see a wide variety of tints and shades. Well, the color does have function and meaning.

Sunlight breaks down the antioxidants, or preservatives, in wine and will eventually cause it to go bad. Now, this isn’t going to happen overnight; it takes time.

Wine packaged in clear bottles, such as Sauvignon Blanc, is made to be consumed young. These are wines with shorter shelf lives that don’t need aging.

But still, if you should see clear bottles displayed in a store window exposed to direct sunlight, you’d be wise to pick a bottle from another part of the store. Sunlight can also cause red wine to fade.

It’s extremely rare that you’ll see a red wine packaged in a clear bottle. Of course, wine being the complicated thing that it is, there are exceptions. Blush wines and sparkling blush wines, like pink champagne, are made to be consumed young and are often found in clear bottles.

The overriding factor in bottle color is tradition. This is based on the bottle type. Traditionally, Bordeaux bottles – a tall bottle with pronounced shoulders – are dark green for red wines, light green for dry white wines and clear for sweet white wines.

Burgundy and Rhone bottles – a tall bottle with sloping sides – are dark green, and Flute bottles – a tall narrow bottle – are dark green for Mosel and Alsace wines, and amber for Rhine wines.

Winemakers, of course, are in the business of selling their wine. They look for whatever might attract the attention of buyers.

As such, you’ll find all manner and combinations of bottle types, colors, tints and hues, even some very nontraditional bottles in reds and blues. Blue bottles in unusual shapes and sizes seem to be popular for sweet dessert wines.

When it comes to stopping sunlight, nothing beats crockery. For that matter, cardboard will stop sunlight as well.

Glass and crockery are neutral, and allow the flavors of the wine to present themselves unaltered. Wine in boxes have a plastic inner bladder which, in some cases could modify the flavors of the wine.

We checked around at some of our favorite wine shops and found these wines in alternative bottles:

• Highly Recommended: Mer Soleil – Silver – Unoaked Chardonnay – Santa Lucia Highlands – Monterey County, California, 2011 – about $21. This wine comes in a ceramic bottle. The winemaker wanted to call attention to the fact that this wine is fermented in stainless steel and concrete as opposed to being barrel fermented. It has crisp acidity with bright citrus flavors and good notes of minerals. The bottle is touted as being reusable as a decanter or flower vase. They also claim that the ceramic bottle holds its temperature better than conventional glass. While that might well be true, this is a very good wine, especially at this price, regardless of the container.

• Recommended: Guntrum Riesling – Rheinhessen, Germany, 2011 – about $13 – This wine comes in a royal blue bottle. The wine has a nice floral nose with citrus flavors of tropical fruit, green apple, and pineapple. It’s refreshing and light in alcohol content (9.5 percent), which makes it a good picnic wine. This producer likes alternative colors to call attention to its wines and also produces wines in red and yellow bottles.

Bleu Bacon Bites

This is a great spring recipe utilizing fresh sweet Vidalia onions. It goes well with both wines above.

1 frozen puff pastry

2 Vidalia onions, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoons brown sugar

1/4 pound bacon, cooked and chopped

One-fourth pound of bleu cheese, crumbled

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the sliced onions and brown sugar. Cook, while stirring, over low heat until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Roll out the puff pastry on a cookie sheet and top with the onions, bacon and the bleu cheese. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Let cool and cut in individual portions.

Have questions? Jim and Marie Oskins may be reached by email at

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