Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Shape of a Bottle


Last night at dinner with my friends Jean-Paul and Isabelle, we were talking about how some liquids can change in taste when drunk from different containers—tea from different teapots, wine from different glasses, things like that. Jean-Paul asked, “Do you think that the bottle shape has an impact on how a wine ages?”

I have absolutely no empirical evidence to support an opinion one way or the other, having never had the opportunity to compare the same wine stored in different bottles. I know that one of the reasons cited for abandoning the old Spécial Club bottle (the one that made people think of either Perrier or bowling pins) was that the wine matured more quickly in that shape. It seems plausible to me, not necessarily in a rational or scientifically explainable sense, but in the way that, for example, a thirty year-old Barolo smells completely different when poured in a Riedel Sommelier Burgundy glass and a Vinum one.

Anyhow, it seems that Jean-Paul has been thinking about this issue quite a bit. He’s even bottled a recent vintage of his Spécial Club in both the Club bottle and a regular bottle, in order to compare their evolution in the future. I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know so much about the aging link to the shape, but I do know how difficult it is to stack those bottles. I wouldn't be surprised if the problem with those special clubs was that people left them standing up instead of lying them down because of their silly shape...

Peter Liem said...

Actually, there has been evidence that storing champagne upright has no ill effect on aging, and in fact some people believe that it actually develops even better. I haven't got any links to point to off of the top of my head, but there have been exhaustive studies done here and elsewhere.

But yes, Spécial Club bottles (both new and old) can be a challenge in the cellar.

Anonymous said...

I remember one such study in Decanter, once upon a time, but I must admit that I was sceptical as they did not mention how long the wines had been stored. After all, up to a point (if you are counting in months rather than in years), faster aging is a good thing. If you are counting in years or decades, faster aging becomes a undesirable.

If they age the same, then the whole argument about corks breathing becomes difficult to hold and I will put in a request for crown caps on my Champagne from now on, and not just beofre disgorgement!

Peter Liem said...

I personally store my champagne bottles horizontally, probably out of sheer force of habit more than anything else. (Also because they come in boxes packed that way.) Some bottles, however, remain upright due to their shape (mostly magnums, but sometimes Club bottles or other oddly-shaped bottles), and that doesn’t bother me in the least. The last bottle I opened that had been standing upright for a long period of time was a magnum of 1988 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, purchased sometime around 1996 and drunk a couple of years ago. In the interim it had been standing up the entire time, in temperature-controlled storage. Naturally, I didn’t have a second magnum that was stored on its side as a comparison, but this magnum was extremely fresh, even more so than I had anticipated. Tasting it blind, I would have expected it to have been released two years prior rather than ten. It didn’t appear that storing it upright had made it develop any faster, and I certainly didn’t feel that it had any other deleterious effects on the wine. Sometimes people say that champagne stored upright is a little more difficult to open, but there was nothing unusual in opening this bottle. As I have another one still standing upright in my cellar, I almost wish it would accelerate its aging program a little bit, since as it is it won’t reach maturity for a long, long time. But not really. I can wait.

Believe me, many people, myself included, would love to buy champagne in crown cap, but it's not legal. (I would like to buy it undisgorged, but that's another story....)