Wine bottles come in a variety of colours but the most common ones come in shades of green, brown, and clear. Winemakers will consider several factors when choosing between the colours of wine bottles to use. The decision will be based on aesthetics (packaging), whether or not to showcase the wine’s colour, the level of required UV protection and any consumer expectations such as traditional European bottling concepts.
Some wines are fermented in the bottle while others are bottled after fermentation. In recent years the bottle size has been standardized, measuring 750 millilitres. Wine bottles are produced, however, in a variety of volumes and shapes.
Many European winemakers base their glass colour selection on tradition. However, some vintners select a glass colour on visual aesthetics, design and packaging. Others choose a bottle based on the colour schemes associated with the label design or a presentation that fits a certain marketing goal. For example, occasionally you may come across a blue bottle, which is driven by marketing. Flint/clear bottles may also fall into this category because the clear glass is the only way to showcase the colour of the wine.
Producers need to choose between a clear bottle that displays the wine colour or a dark coloured bottle colour that provides UV protection. Wine is sensitive to both sunlight and fluorescent light. As little as a single hour of sunlight can cause lightstruck, which impacts the flavour of a wine. This can cause wine to taste like rotting leaves, cooked cabbage, leeks, onions, skunk, wet wool or soy.
Certain grape varietals, wine styles, and wines that have more amino acids or hydrogen disulphide (H2S) are more at risk to develop off-flavours. Because of this, sparkling wine is rarely bottled in clear glass. Since aromatic and neutral white wines are delicate, you can taste any off flavours more easily.
Not surprisingly, clear/flint bottles filter the least amount of light, resulting in more light damage than other glass colours. Wines bottled in flint/clear glass are meant for immediate consumption. Tests on white and sparkling wines bottled in flint/clear glass and trials show that citrus aromas in wines decrease and off-flavors increase after only 3.3 – 3.4 hours of exposure to fluorescent lights.
Clear colourless bottles have recently become popular with white wine producers in many countries including Greece, New Zealand and Canada, as well as for sweet white wines from Bordeaux.
Antique/Dark Green Glass
Antique Green is a darker shade of green that is the traditional glass colour for red wines that need to age, including the red wines from Bordeaux, Rhone and Burgundy, France. It is also popular in the U.S. as it provides the wine with UV protection from fading or oxidation.
Many white wines also come in dark green bottles in order to reduce the effects of UV light.
Champagne Green is a vibrant green that is the dominate colour used in the Champagne and Alsace regions of France. It is also commonly used within Germany and Austria for bottling Riesling and in California for Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Champagne Green filters out 63% to 92% of UV light.
Dead Leaf/Pale Yellowy Green
The third shade of green is Dead Leaf Green which is almost a light yellowy-green colour. This shade of green provides some UV protection and is traditionally used for white wines. It is one of the traditional glass colours for wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy, France.
Wine in a colourless bottle is meant to be drunk right away, not stored and aged.
Amber Brown Glass
Amber/brown glass filters out 97% to98% of the light wavelengths and offers the best UV protection but is rarely used outside of the Rhine region of Germany. If wineries were always basing their decision on the glass that best protects their wine, amber brown coloured bottles would be the most common bottle used.
The choice of colour for a wine bottle depends on several considerations and each winery selects the colour(s) that they feel are right for them and their brand. Their choice is based on their priorities between marketing, tradition, wine integrity or a combination of the best practices in each area. Those decisions impact your wine experience.