A History of the Glass Wine Bottle

You have to love a glass wine bottle. Always perfectly shaped, sized, and handled.

Glass has been around a long time. Naturally occurring obsidian glass has been used in human tools since the Stone Age! The first true glass was produced around 3,000 BC in Northern Syria. In South Asia, glasswork was used beginning around 1730 BC. The ancient Romans were particularly well-known for their glasswork, which was used both domestically and industrially. They developed the technique of glassblowing, which was used to make wine bottles. It’s no surprise, then, that the term “glass” was first used by the Romans.

Sadly, the delicate glass of yore wasn’t a good method for storing wine. Because it was too fragile to travel, wine was usually stored in clay pots called amphorae. However, glass was still used on occasion- people would pour their wine into hand-blown glass bottles for fancy events. When glass bottles did need to be shipped, they were wrapped in straw. This protected them and allowed them to be stored upright.

In ancient Rome, amphorae were used instead of glass wine bottles.

In ancient Rome, amphorae were used instead of glass wine bottles.

In the 17th century, the invention of the coal-burning furnace changed that. The hotter temperatures allowed for thicker, darker glass that had previously been impossible to produce. Add in the invention of a cork closure and you have yourself a decent way of transporting wine!

Bottles were still completely un-standardized, meaning that they came in all shapes and sizes. The colors also varied wildly. Instead of standard wine labels, bottles were usually only marked with a stamp from the bottle maker.

By the 1730s, people began to recognize the importance of different winemakers, grape varieties, and vineyards. People also began to age their wine. They were stored just as we store bottles today! They were laid on their side to avoid spoilage and to allow the drinkers to watch for sediment. As a result, the fat, round bottles fell out of favor, paving the way for the long, sleek bottles we use today. However, bottles were still not standard. They were a “lungful” of the glassblower’s air- usually between 700 and 800ml. Thus, in some places, such as England, it remained illegal to sell wine by the bottle; they were sold by the barrel and then poured into non-standard bottles. (This remained the law in England until 1860!)

In 1979, the US set the standard size for a glass wine bottle: 750ml. In order to allow for easy trade relations, the European Union quickly adopted the same standard.

Now, of course, 750ml glass bottles are a ubiquitous part of the wine world. The feeling of a cool glass wine bottle in your hand is only matched by the flavor of the wine on your palate!