The form of a wine bottle is perfect: 750 milliliters. Too much for one person to reasonably drink on their own, it requires sharing. Not that I haven’t been responsible for a whole bottle of wine in my time (and then some), but things generally get pretty weird for most people after 4 or more glasses. It’s just big enough for two people to get a little buzzy on. It’s durable. It stacks. It’s the product of hundreds of years of natural development. It’s a perfect marriage of form and function.
Other formats exist, and they too all have solid reasons behind them. One of my favorite is the Jura’s Clavelin, a 620ml bottle, who’s difference in volume is supposedly the “angel’s share” which would have evaporated from a regular format bottle over the course of its six years of barrel aging. Magnums, Jeroboams, and other large formats (the subject of many a smutty sommelier mnemonic) are wonderfully ceremonial and add a real dose of theatre to a large party, as well as adding the ageability of a wine. Franken’s Bocksbeutel, a flat, pancake-shaped bottle is named for its resemblance to a goat’s scrotum (the 12-year-old boy in me cannot stop sniggering) and flattened to prevent it from rolling away (presumably on Germany’s famously precipitous vineyard slopes). The half-bottle shines best when used to contain thrillingly concentrated elixirs, such as Germany and Austria’s Trockenbeerenauslesen, Tokaj’s Essenczia, and new world delights such as Seppeltsfield’s fathomless 100-year Para: a whole bottle would be an embarrassment of riches. The split (actually a quarter bottle, 187ml, not a half-bottle) is truly adorable, the Thumbelina of wine bottles, and is perfect for dessert wine for two. The Rheinhessen’s Gunderloch Estate does some of its Nackenheimer Rothenburg Trockenbeerenauslese in this format.
Regardless of the particular form, the most amazing thing about the shape of a wine bottle is that it reinforces sharing. It brings us together to commune, about the bottle’s history, or our own. The wine bottle is a cultural touchstone for the meeting of minds and hearts. Overly romantic? Maybe. Meet me for a bottle of wine sometime and we’ll talk about it.