Packaging is a major consideration for wine producers, particularly in today's highly saturated wine market. Whether consciously or not, consumers consider several packaging variables when purchasing a wine off the shelf. Is the label classy or cute? Does it have a screw cap or a cork? Does the bottle have high shoulders or sloped shoulders?
Most of the industry agrees that bottle shape has no impact on wine taste. A case could be made that bottle shapes will create different oxidation properties, but this is usually considered negligible. Just like a label, bottle shape is a cosmetic issue.
Today's popular bottle shapes are traced to certain European wine regions. Over time, producers developed bottles unique to their region as a way to give consumers an idea of what was inside the bottle prior to purchase. This methodology still applies today.
There are four primary bottle shape categories: Bordeaux, Burgundy, German (Hoch), and Champagne.
The Burgundy bottle has soft shoulders and a fairly wide base. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the wines of Burgundy, and this bottle type is commonly used for both varieties worldwide.
Many people consider the Rhone bottle a different category. It is very similar to the Burgundy bottle, but slight more slender with slightly sharper shoulders. These bottles are used for Rhone varieties including Syrah and Grenache.
The Bordeaux bottle is tall with straight sides and high shoulders. These bottles are commonly used for the Bordeaux varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon. It is also commonly used for Sauternes, dessert wine from Sauternais region of Bordeaux, and many producers have adopted this bottle for use with similar styles of late-harvest/dessert wines. It has also been adopted by many California producers for bottling Zinfandel.
The German bottle is tall and slender, with quite soft shoulders and a long neck. This bottle is typical of Reisling, Gewurztraminer, and several other aromatic white varietals. German bottles are also commonly used for sweet wines, which has forced many producers to move away from using these for dry-style aromatic whites in an effort to avoid consumer confusion.
The Champagne bottle has a somewhat similar shape to the Burgundy bottle, with a wider base and sloped shoulders. The primary differences are a pronounced punt (indent in the bottom of the bottle) and far thicker glass, both required for structural integrity of the bottle to contain the enormous pressure inside. For these same reasons, sparkling wine producers worldwide have adopted the same bottle.
Large format bottles are becoming more common in today's market; these bottles typically have the same shape as the standard 750 mL bottles but hold more (sometimes WAY more) wine. They also have really cool names, such as the Jeroboam (3 L) and Nebuchadnezzar (15 L).