It’s time to fight obesity in wine bottles.
I don’t mean magnums, mind you—those 1.5-liter double bottles that always impress at parties. And not the giant auction formats like Jeraboams, Methusalehs, Salmanazars, Nevvawuzzas, or Needabarasoapas.
I say down with those heavy 750-milliliter behemoths that weigh considerably more than an average bottle. I mean, what’s the point? Do we really think the wine is better because the bottle is slightly taller, a little fatter and has a huge punt? (Geekspeak alert: A punt is the indentation in the bottom of the wine bottle. A sommelier is supposed to be able to stick his or her thumb up the punt and control the bottle for artful pouring across the table. Some people actually get off on that.)
Moving some bottles around in my modest wine cellar recently, I was struck by how differently two bottles of Pinot Noir weighed in my hands. So I pulled out my kitchen scale and put them to the test.
The Edna Valley Vineyard 2006 Paragon, a slim, Burgundy-style bottle, weighed in at 2 pounds and 11 ounces, or 1,230 grams.
Sanford Santa Rita Hills 2006, in contrast, weighed 3 pounds and 11 ounces, or 1,665 grams. As you can see in the photo, the Sanford is a little taller and a little wider than the Edna Valley. But much heavier.
An entire pound’s difference. Twelve pounds per case. About 600 to 840 extra pounds per pallet (depending on the number of cases in a pallet, which seems to vary—perhaps larger bottles make for larger cases, resulting in fewer cases per pallet?). How much extra transportation costs (for both the empty and the full bottles) are incurred in getting this wine to market? What effect is there not only on our pocketbooks but on greenhouse-gas emissions? Per bottle, perhaps negligible—but industrywide? I weighed several bottles of varying shapes; the Edna Valley and the Sanford represented the extremes.
Retailers and distributors, who move wine cases around more than any of us, should be leading a crusade against these bottles. The Edna Valley would weigh about 33 pounds for a case, the Sanford 45 pounds. And extra space on the shelf for “prestigious” wines means less space for others that might sell just as well.
I’m not even talking about how these wines taste, mind you. The Sanford is one of California’s leading Pinots, while the Edna Valley has always been a consistent value at a fraction of the price. But flavor, for once, is beside the point.
Wineries have made a big deal lately about going green and reducing their carbon footprints. Many have installed solar power—it takes a lot of electricity to keep those barrel rooms cool, after all. Others tout sustainable, organic, or biodynamic viticulture as ways they can be good stewards of the land. All of these steps are laudable. But more can be done.
So I say to winemakers—put your egos into the wine itself, not the bottles that hold the wine. Use lighter bottles.
The British wine writer Jancis Robinson has been railing against “bodybuilder bottles” for some time and this year launched a crusade to rally consumers against heavyweight bottles. We should all join the fight.