Puente Alto, Chile (Photo: Fsanchezs)
The origins of Ten Green Bottles like so many other folksongs have
faded into history. It was always thought to be an English song and possibly
from Yorkshire, although one suggestion is that “green bottles” is
nineteenth century underworld slang referring to officers of London’s
Metropolitan Police. Unfortunately, that theory rather lost its credibility
in 1998 when a French researcher discovered a fourteenth century English
manuscript containing virtually the same words.
But why green? The
colour of the bottle is largely the choice of the winemaker, traditions,
practical issues and these days perhaps, customer expectations. As everyone
knows, red wine comes in green bottles. It was once thought that red wine
was particularly sensitive to light and the green colour also helped to
conceal the sediment that sometimes appeared. Perhaps it was simply cheaper
to use green glass. I’ve noticed that in countries which produce both red
and white wines (which are most of them) the whites are nearly always
bottled in transparent glass. Perhaps this is simply because in a dark
cellar it would easier to distinguish the whites from the reds. In Germany,
which produces hardly any red wines, transparent bottles are rarely used.
The white wines of the Mosel Valley come in light green bottles whereas the
whites from the Rheine Valley are always in brown bottles, which at least
make them instantly identifiable.
developed significantly during the eighteenth century and it became possible
to produce containers of a reasonably consistent size and shape. The colour
of the glass was usually determined by the minerals available and during
this time, the wine bottle changed from a squat-looking dumpy thing to
something closer to the Bordeaux-style bottle we know today.
But have you ever
noticed how many different bottle shapes there are? Putting aside various
novelty shapes, there are about a dozen standard designs for table wines all
of which come from the Old World. The tall Bordeaux style bottle is the most
common, with its high shoulders and short neck. It was evidently designed
for storage, because high-quality wines are aged on their sides to keep the
cork moist. The high shoulders prevent sediment from reaching the cork and
the straight sides also allow the bottles to be stacked on top of each
other. Although most wine is made for early drinking, the Bordeaux-style
bottle remains a favourite design. Old habits, as they say, die hard.
In Alsace, the wine
bottles are tall and elegant with long necks. In Burgundy, the wine comes in
bottles with gently sloping shoulders and a rather wide body. Further south
in the Rhône Valley, wine is sold in broad heavy bottles usually with a coat
of arms embossed below the neck. In Germany, Mosel and Rheine wines come in
tall bottles similar to those of Alsace.
And that’s another
thing. What about that curious indentation in the base of the bottle? It’s
known as a punt but nobody is really sure why it’s there. It may have
been intended to trap the sediment in red wines. A more plausible
explanation is that’s a left-over from the days when wine bottles were hand
blown using a thing called a pontil which left a scar on the base of
the bottle. By indenting the base, the scar would not scratch the table and
more importantly, made the bottle much more stable.
Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay 2013 (white), Chile (Bt. 649 @ Tesco-Lotus)
You may not know that
the Spanish word vitral means “a stained glass window” and neither
did I until I ferreted through the browning pages of my old Spanish
dictionary. This is evidently a reference to the town’s famous sixteenth
century church and its stained glass windows.
This wine is a pale
straw colour with faint hints of green. There’s a fresh and delicate aroma
but you’ll need to let the wine breathe in the glass for a few minutes
especially if the bottle has just been taken out of the fridge. The
Chardonnay, with its honeyed aromas of pineapple, peaches and citrus aromas
seems to come through first, despite the fact that the grape accounts for
only 15% of the blend. Then, a bit later, the slightly mineral and grassy
notes of the Sauvignon Blanc appear.
character seems rather more noticeable on the taste because there’s a
sprightly dash of acidity which you can’t miss, a very firm dry body and a
long tangy finish. These two grape varieties make for a good blend because
the soft quality of the Chardonnay helps to keep the lively Sauvignon Blanc
under control. Because of its refreshing crispness, this would make an
excellent apéritif but I’d guess it would work well with richly-flavoured
fish dishes or something like chicken in a creamy sauce. It would work very
well with that old 1970s favourite Pollo Sorpresa but you’ll be
hard-pressed to find a decent one in these parts.
Cabernet-Merlot 2013 (red), Chile (Bt. 449 @ Tesco-Lotus)
This bright, ruby-red
wine has the familiar aroma of black red plums and cherries with a faint
hint of spice and chocolate. The Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for 85% of the
blend but I shall leave you to calculate the percentage of Merlot because at
the end of the week, I am not up to feats of arithmetic. The blend has been
the basis of Bordeaux reds for generations, because the Merlot brings a
touch of softness and roundness to the wine. It also adds that
characteristic brambly, woodland kind of smell which is so easy to recognise
yet so difficult to describe.
wine has a lovely smooth and silky texture and a clean, well-rounded and
focused taste with the fruit well-balanced against the soft ripe tannins.
The taste “blooms” in your mouth, which is invariably a sign of a
well-crafted wine. There’s a very satisfying long and dry fruity finish with
a waft of pleasing tannins at the end. If this all sounds a bit daunting,
the wine is actually an easy drinker with plenty to hold the attention. It
would make a good partner for most red meat dishes. And just in case you’re
wondering, it comes in a green bottle.