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Once determined by tradition, modern choices for a wine bottle’s colour also factor in science and marketing considerations. The ability to make a visual statement on the shelf has led wine producers to employ a dramatic range of shapes, sizes, weights and, yes, colours of glass, with a palette that ranges from traditional earth tones to eye-popping metallics, violet, aqua, pink and black hues.
Scan the shelves of the nearest liquor store and you’re likely to find most bottles come in shades of green or brown or are clear to display the colour of the rosé or the pale lemon colour of a pinot grigio. The odd blue bottle stands out from the crowd, while the holiday season ushers in an increase in festive red, frosted or gold limited editions.
Traditionally, green glass was used by producers of Champagne or rieslings from the Mosel, a darker shade, called antique green, is common for wines produced in Bordeaux and a light-yellow bottle, known as dead leaf by industry standards, is often for chardonnays from Burgundy. Producers in other parts of the world looking to make wines in similar styles as those historic regions often select the same colour of bottles as a signal to consumers.
Science has helped producers make informed bottling decisions based on the long-term health and stability of their wines.
Clear bottles are used primarily for wines that are meant to be consumed young. Coloured glass is essential for age-worthy wines because they limit exposure to sunlight and fluorescent light rays that can change the colour, aroma and taste of the wine.
There are exceptions. For instance, Louis Roederer uses a clear bottle for Cristal, its flagship vintage Champagne. Each bottle comes boxed and wrapped in cellophane to protect against damaging rays that can cook the sparkling wine.
Light will cause oxidation. A wine that has been oxidized loses its intensity and depth of flavour and can begin to taste more like vinegar. Recent studies on white and sparkling wines bottled in clear or lightly coloured glass show that citrus aromas in wines decrease and off-flavours – considered light-struck flavours by the researchers – increase after a matter of hours of exposure to fluorescent lights.
You might say, the darker the colour of the wine bottle, the better the protection from harmful rays. Even then, it’s best to store your bottles in a dark, cool space that’s free from vibration if you’re holding on to them for days, weeks or months.