by Fred McMillin
for May 28, 1998

The Changing Wine Bottle


1500 B.C.—Hollow glass vessels were invented in the Middle East.

300 A.D.—The Romans used glass bottles for serving wine at the table, but not for storing it.

1400 A.D.—Italy is the leader in glass technology, but its wine bottles are so fragile they are wrapped in straw to avoid breakage.

1635 A.D.—The father of the modern wine bottle, Englishman Sir Kenelm Digby has a hard time getting down to business. At age 20 in Paris, he reported his death and fled to Italy to escape the amorous advances of Queen Marie di Medici. At age 24 he turned successfully to buccaneering in the Mediterranean, capturing vessels from many European countries. In his thirties, back in England, he invents the first thick-walled wine bottle.

1700—The thick-walled vessels are squat decanters with short necks. To store them on their sides, they are placed in beds of sand.

1740—The bottle is changing to a fat cylinder.

1790—The bottle is a modern cylinder which can be stored horizontally, keeping the cork moist, allowing long aging.

1996—The Corbett Canyon Winery introduces a new bottle shape...cylindrical at the top tapering down into a tall, slender, SQUARE shape. It is easier to grip and easier to pour than the less-slender conventional bottles. To try it, buy the Corbett Canyon '94 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Wine

1994 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Corbett Canyon Winery
Rating—RECOMMENDED in its price range.
Comment—Corbett Canyon is one of California's fastest growing wineries. Last time we checked, annual sales had just topped one million cases.
Contact—Ed Schwartz, (415) 346-2929


It was illegal to sell wine by the bottle in England for over two centuries, starting in 1636, because of varying bottle capacities. Hence, the purchased wine was measured out, then poured into a bottle and corked. Customers often brought their own bottles. Credits: Oxford Companion to Wine; Hugh Johnson's,Vintage .

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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