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  • April 9, 2014
  • Bottle Types

  • by Lars Carlberg

different_greens_falkensteinWhich bottle color do you prefer—dark or antique green? To sign up for free and reply, click here.

On January 18, I posted this shot on Instagram and Facebook of two different-colored glass bottles from Hofgut Falkenstein and asked followers and "friends" to pick which bottle they preferred most. The survey was not unanimous for one of the two shades of green.

I initially favored antique green. Yet, as the photographer turned winegrower Andreas Durst pointed out, dark green is traditional on the Saar, such as the classic, 330-mm massongrün bottles of Scharzhofberger from Egon Müller.

The Weber family of Hofgut Falkenstein, whose wines I represent, are sticking to dark green. In fact, it was never their intention to switch to the lighter antique green, or olive, in the first place, much less use a more pretentious 350-mm bottle, which has a longer neck and is much in vogue these days.

Back in January, I just happened to have a barrel sample of 2013 Niedermenniger Sonnenberg Riesling Spätlese trocken from Johannes Weber, who filled it in an antique-green bottle without a label. When I had breakfast the next morning, I took the empty bottle and fixed, with a rubber band, a loose Falkenstein label around it, so I could compare the two side by side.

As my subscribers know, in my producer profiles before the subheading "Wines," I like to include a few tidbits about the label design and bottle type of each producer. (See Weiser-Künstler for sample content.) It's somewhat of an in-joke, even though I do like to take note of labels and bottles. Of course, the quality of the wine is what is most important.

On the Mosel, the traditional long-necked flute-shaped Schlegelflasche ("drumstick bottle") comes in three main colors, which, according to the glass works, have different names. I'll call them dark green (massongrün), antique green (antikgrün), and antique blue (antikblau). The latter is more a greenish blue, though. (To see an image of a 330-mm Schlegel bottle in dark green and antique blue, click here.) Other colors include brown (typical in the Rhine regions), brownish-orange, green, white, and royal blue.

In my glossary entry below, I explain that Schlegel bottles come in two different heights for 750 ml: 330 and 350 mm. Like in Burgundy, the producer can choose a 750-ml bottle in a heavier glass or with variations in the shape. The 1.5-liter bottles, or magnums, in the Schlegel format are much beloved.

Schlegelflasche (Schlegel) The traditional long-necked bottle shape for German Rieslings. Schlegel means drumstick. Pre-1977, bottles were often 700 ml. Rhine bottles (Mittelrhein, Rheingau, Nahe, Rheinhessen) are traditionally brown, Mosel, including Saar and Ruwer, green. Before the 1920s, Mosel bottles generally were steel blue (stahlblau), which is back in vogue under the name antikblau, or antique blue. On the Saar and Mosel, many of the traditional estates stick to the modest 330-mm bottle “flutes” in different shades of green, usually massongrün, or dark green, even though antique green or blue has become popular. Other growers take to the more attention-getting 350-mm bottles, at least for their top wines, though some have gone back to the 330-mm bottles for all their wines. VDP estates use a heavy, often-embossed bottle for their Grosse Gewächse, now with a GG rather than an Erste Lage symbol, but most Grosser Ring members avoid this pretentious packaging. According to the German author Felix Meyer, Champagne bottles were commonly used for still Mosel wine in the early 19th century.

Wittmann, Keller, Christmann, and most other VDP producers—though less so in the Mosel region—purchase the more expensive, heavy glass flutes for their high-end GGs, which now have the letters GG embossed on the glass. This replaces the VDP's Erste Lage logo, because the VDP came up with the idea of adding the term "Grosse Lage"—the equivalent of Burgundy's grand cru—to their vineyard classification, failing to notice that consumers might confuse Grosse Lage with Grosslage, much less understand the terms themselves.

Some non-VDP members choose a taller and heavier bottle for their prestige wines, too. They just can't have the VDP-GG embossment. As with La Nerthe, Clos des Papes, and Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Paulinshof, in the village of Kesten, near Brauneberg, has its own emblem embossed on the glass.

In Piesport, a number of producers—Reinhold Haart, Kurt Hain, Später-Veit, Julian Haart, Lothar Kettern—prefer the taller 350-mm bottle in antique green. Though Julian Hart does use the 330-mm dark-green bottle for his entry-level "MoselRiesling." A.J. Adam, Markus Molitor, Nik Weis, Carl Loewen, and Clemens Busch also use the tall antique-green bottle.

Van Volxem has the tall bottle, as well, but in antique blue. Maximin Grünhaus uses the same one for its deluxe Superior bottlings. Otherwise, Grünhaus has kept to the more modest-sized dark-green bottles for the rest. Across the Ruwer creek in Eitelsbach, Christian Vogt of the Karthäuserhof says that the new owner has chosen to use the taller 350-mm antique-blue bottle beginning with the 2013 vintage—plus a new retro neck label. Under Christoph Tyrell, Karthäuserhof always had the simple dark-green bottles.

In and around the towns of Traben-Trarbach and Winningen, many of the top-quality producers favor the shorter 330-mm bottles in antique blue. The list includes Weiser-Künstler, Vollenweider, Immich-Batterieberg, Melsheimer, Lubentiushof, Knebel, and Heymann-Löwenstein.

Weiser-Künstler and Vollenweider only use an extra-tall bottle for the most expensive dry Riesling, a quasi-GG bottling. In fact, Weiser-Künstler pokes fun at the VDP and calls their wine GE, Grosse Eule, or "great owl." Martin Müllen, also in Traben-Trarbach, use to have the modest-sized 330-mm bottle in dark green. Now, he has gone to a flashy cowboy-style label (with the 1897 Prussian Mosel map) and the 350-mm flutes. In Brauneberg, Stefan Steinmetz of Günther Steinmetz moved to an antique-blue 330-mm bottle with his new label design (but has since tweaked the label and went back to the 350-mm bottles for the 2014 vintage).

The old guard often sticks to the 330-mm bottles in dark green, especially on the Saar but also the Mosel. For example, Joh. Jos. Prüm stays with the more humble 330-mm Schlegel bottles in massongrün, ditto Schloss Lieser, Selbach-Oster, Stein, and Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch – Erben Thanisch. Willi Schaefer and Zilliken have 330-mm dark-green bottles, too, but they have the 350-mm Schlegel for their GGs.

Knebel and Dr. Siemens use to have both the shorter and taller bottles, the latter usually for the more expensive wines. Peter Lauer still does this, except for the 2008 vintage, when there were not enough 350-mm bottles available from the glass works. I keep reminding Florian Lauer that I especially liked his wines in the simple bottles.

Following the new label designs, the large Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier has switched to 350-mm bottles in antique green, but Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium remains in the 330-mm bottle in dark green.

In the Pfalz, Müller-Catoir has an exquisite property, and it is no different with their labels. (See "What's Your Favorite Mosel Wine Label?”) Like most Pfalz VDP producers, the Catoirs have a bigger 350-mm glass bottle for the top-end GGs, such as with the Erste Lage logo, which is now out of date for GG-designated wines. Some Pfalz producers have the tall, heavy brown flutes for all their wines—for example, von Winning. In contrast, Koehler-Ruprecht has the unpretentious brown bottles in 330 mm.

The Charta movement in the Rheingau was one of the first to have bottles with their symbol embossed on the glass. These were in the typical brown-colored bottle. In 1996, the Rheingau grower's association began to advocate a rather modern-looking bottle called the Rheingauer Flöte, or Rheingau flute. The idea was to be different from the Mittelrhein, Nahe, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz. This Rheingau flute comes in a 350-mm blue-green bottle but also in dark green. It never really caught on with most of the producers, even though Schloss Vollrads and Spreitzer still use it. Schloss Johannisberg and Robert Weil smartly stuck with the traditional brown Rhine flute, and Leitz prefers the same, albeit in a tall, heavy brown bottle for its top wines.

In Felix Meyer's Rhein, Mosel, Pfalz, printed in 1926/27, he says that before the 19th-century wines were sold in cask. In Germany, glass bottles existed before then, but the prototype for sealable bottles came from the Champagne industry, which goes back to the 17th century. "The first German wine bottles were the French Champagne bottles," Meyer says. In another passage, he says that the first Mosel wine bottles were in Champagne bottles in the early 19th century. This came about because of the French invasions in the 18th and 19th centuries. The empty Champagne bottles were then used for German still wines during this period. At first, producers had bottles for storage. Yet, by the mid-19th century, they had them more for transport. The general use of bottles increased with the very good 1890 vintage. Before then, he says that only the best wines were bottled; the simple ones were shipped in cask. This played an important role in accentuating the light, fresh style of Mosel wine. ♦

  • Daniel Darahem says:

    Great article, Lars. As always.

  • paz levinson says:

    Never knew that they used Champagne bottles! I like very much dark green and the blueish one ( antique blue?) like the Günther Steinmetz Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Spätlese,

  • In spite of all that I wrote about dark-green bottles for Hofgut Falkenstein’s Saar Rieslings, Johannes Weber called me yesterday and said that they got magnums in antique green. He wanted dark green instead, but he went ahead and bottled the 2013 Niedermenniger Herrenberg Spätlese feinherb in antique-green mags. I don’t know if the mags even come in dark green.

    (I later found out that they do come in dark green. The Webers used this color for their mags in the 2014 and 2015 vintages.)

  • Sasha Katsman says:

    Lars, one thing I can tell you, as someone who uses professional storage in New York and has to come up with creative ways utilizing existing space for the greatest possible number of bottles, that these longer 350-mm bottles they use in the Wachau and for the GGs in Germany are a major pain in the neck!

    Other than that, I wasn’t sure, so I looked about the kitchen this morning and noted, as the image below depicts, that the most essential household items all came in relatively dark green 🙂

    To see image, click here.

    • It’s not only the VDP’s GGs that are usually in the 350-mm bottles but also many other German Rieslings. In the Mosel region, the traditionalists tend to prefer the more modest 330-mm bottles in dark green.

      I like your pic. Apropos Clos Ste. Hune, I had a chance to visit Riquewihr last month, and a grower pointed out some of the vineyard plots used for this famous wine from Trimbach.

  • Per Linder says:

    Lars, would you know why and since when Mosels have green and Hocks brown bottles ?

    A Schlegel bottle allegedly from 1850 was found last year by archeologists on the site of an old glass factory in Niedersachsen.

    In the weekly Deutsche Wein-Zeitung (available at the great site dilibri.de), a Mainz firm has an ad for Schlegel and Bordeaux bottles in 1865.

    • That’s a good question, Per. I didn’t do a lot of historical research for my article, except for quoting Felix Meyer, also via Dilibri. Joachim Krieger gave me some of his thoughts about this topic yesterday. I’m hoping that he’ll comment on my site, too.

      Meyer says that the top sweeter Auslese wines began to be bottled in the 1850s and 1860s. These justified the higher costs of packaging in bottle. In the 1860s, it became more prevalent to bottle the top wines. He goes on to write that the first Fuder of Mosel wine was bottled and shipped by a producer in Zeltingen in 1870. The buyer wrapped the bottles in straw and packed them into wooden crates. By the early 1870s, the Trier wine trade was exporting large quantities of Mosel wine in bottle. Meyer says that this increased with the branding of corks and the Wachstum-designation on labels for producers who wanted a way to guarantee (non-chaptalized) “natural wines” for their clients. The high point was the turn of the century with the famous Mosel Kresenzen, or top growths (of unchaptalized Mosel Rieslings). He also writes about how Mosel wines under natural cork were in vogue because of their aromatic, fresh, and crisp style. If it weren’t for bottling, Mosel wine wouldn’t have been so popular.

      I’ve found ads for certain bottle types in 19th-century German wine journals. For example, in the Trier journal Weinmarkt, issue number 19, from October 1, 1897, there’s an ad from the glass works Gerresheimer for three main wine bottles:

      Steel-blue Mosel wine bottles (original color)
      Green Mosel wine bottles
      Brown Rhine wine bottles

      The same ad appears in subsequent issues. In another ad from 1898 of this journal, the Wirges glass works on the Rhine offers Mosel wine bottles in steel blue, and Rhine wine bottles in brown and green.

      In Fritz Goldschmidt’s Der Wein, printed in 1925, he says that German white wines are bottled in the so-called Schlegelflaschen in a brown-red color, and Mosel, Saar, and Ruwer wines, as well as German red wines in the same form but in a blue-green color.

      It should be noted, too, that many of the old, hand-blown Schlegel bottles were taller, like today’s 350-mm ones, others were shorter. The styles and sizes changed over time.

  • Daniel Melia says:

    I’ll take any of the colors—perhaps the only good thing about an empty bottle of Riesling is the way the light can catch the bottle just-so. I tend to think that the antique blue does a particularly good job of that, but I love the dark and the antique green, too. Bottle size strikes me as something of a different issue. I’m with Sasha re: the annoyance factor. And I’m with Lars (even though he doesn’t say so explicitly) that there sometimes seems something a bit needlessly showy or ostentatious about the 350-mm bottles, especially once they’re heavy and embossed and whatever else. But a lot of times—and maybe I should be embarrassed by this, or maybe it’s just that, over the course of some years, I came to rely on Lars to point out these kinds of bottling and labeling nuances—I just don’t notice. If I actually stop and think about it, I like what feels like the humble spirit of the smaller bottle. But at the same time, every once in a while, there’s something that seems right about a bold wine in a bigger bottle that seems uninterested in being bashful about its ambition. (Though, of course, there is something equally inspiring about the great, ambitious thing in the smaller, unpretentious package! It never ends…)

    • Thanks so much for your thoughts on Schlegel bottle types! I’m with you, Dan. Though my preference is for the more modest 330-mm bottles in any of the three main colors, I do like German Rieslings in the tall magnum Schlegel format. Yesterday, I was at Peter Lauer’s, and winemaker Florian Lauer has some Barrel X—which you helped name instead of Alt Scheidt (“old shit”)—in mags with white-wax caps. It looks so good, plus it’s a basic off-dry Saar Riesling for gulping down.

  • Sasha Katsman says:

    Have any of the smaller bottles used for German Riesling ever chipped on the inside, under the pressure of an Ah-So corkscrew? This is yet to happen to me with a German bottle, but it kept on occurring with bottles of Muscadet to a point where I had to stop using the Ah-So on them, and developed a bit of paranoia about the cheaper looking thin long neck bottles. Obviously, one would think the bottles for Muscadet are manufactured in a different place, by different means.

    • I’ve never used an Ah-So corkscrew, much less on standard German Riesling bottles. The taller bottles have the same thickness, unless the producer chooses the heavy glass.

    • Andrew Bair says:

      Sasha – I’ve used an Ah-So corkscrew for many of my older bottles, and have yet to encounter any chipping. As a matter of fact, a crumbly cork from a 1983 Zilliken Auslese was what pushed me to try the Ah-So in the first place. My experience with the Ah-So is that it doesn’t work for me with more recently bottled wines, where the wine has not had enough time to fully penetrate the cork. (It’s also worth noting that two of my major sources for German wines store their bottles upright.)

      Anyway, I hope that you have been able to filter the glass chips out of the bottle, and thereby salvage the wine.

  • At the moment, Joachim Krieger is still busy writing an essay, but he sent me a couple of emails in regard to my article. He says that the Mosel had for a long time with the dark-green bottle a unique profile in comparison with the brown “Rhine bottles.” This changed with the new trend towards older bottle types. He feels it’d be worth researching more what bottle type existed during what period in the different German Riesling regions, without getting too caught up in the theories of certain producers or “coincidences,” like Champagne bottles.

    In a second email, Joachim says that the question remains when the dark-green bottle became the norm in the Mosel region, and why this color? After the Second World War till recently, he can only remember the Mosel bottle in dark green. He, however, finds it alarming that so many top-quality producers used the cheap and short 700-ml bottles in the 1970s. This began to wane at the end of the 1980s.

    Joachim also points out that the Mosel was one of the first regions to have grower-bottled wines and that shipper-producers were already bottling in the early 19th century, such as the famous Deinhard & Co. in Koblenz.

  • Marcin Jagodzinski says:

    I have quite trivial issue with taller bottles: I can’t always fit them in my fridge. But visually I prefer taller one.

  • Andrew Bair says:

    Lars –

    Thank you for the interesting article. Sorry to be so late in responding – I have been very busy over the past two months, and have not had the chance to post any tasting notes or anything in quite a while.

    As far as colors, I can go with either of the two shades of green. Blue is another story. I definitely prefer green. Somehow, blue looks cheap to me, even though I am too young to remember the heyday of Blue Nun. Blue makes me think more of gin or tequila than it does wine. Just my opinion.

    I do like the traditional brown Rhine bottles, although Vollrads’ green bottle is also fine by me. Spreitzer used to use bottles with a dramatically fluted neck, and a flared glass stopper, but they seem to have moved away from those. Although I actually liked those bottles, I’m guessing that my opinion there is in the minority.

    Bottle length is an issue for me in another regard. I don’t have anywhere that I can store the super long magnum bottles of German or Alsatian Riesling. I have heard similar complaints about bockbeutels being difficult to store, but have no problem dealing with the 1-2 such bottles that I ever have at a given time. (Talk about a debate between tradition and practicality!) It’s not as if we have many Franken wines around here, anyway – outside of NYC, I’ve found it a challenge to find anything from anyone other than the reliable Hans Wirsching.

    Finally, as many other people have said, I’d like to see an end to the heavy GG bottles. A pretentious waste of glass, and harder to pour, if you ask me.

    • The antique blue is a greenish blue and different from the blue-colored bottles used for many of the cheap German wines from large shipper-bottlers. In addition, steel blue was a traditional color for Mosel wine bottles. I like the plain brown Rhine bottles, too. The modern-looking Rheingau flute was a mistake in my opinion. Doesn’t Spreitzer still use the Rheingau flute? I don’t like the taller 350-mm bottles, but I’m a fan of magnums in the Schlegel format, even if they are difficult to keep in a fridge. That’s why Ulli Stein has been reluctant to bottle mags.

  • If we use the Châteauneuf-du-Pape analogy, Château Rayas still has the more humble Burgundy bottle without an embossment. The now-classic bottle, with the embossed papal tiara above St. Peter’s keys, was created by La Fédération des Syndicats de Producteurs de Châteauneuf du Pape in 1937. Yet, several years ago, the other syndicat, SIDVAOC, started the La Mitrale bottle (Mont-Redon, Charvin, Roger Sabon), and other producers (La Nerthe, Clos des Papes) came up with their own embossed emblems. Beaucastel has an even heavier bottle with their coat of arms. I don’t care for the trend towards heavy bottles, which usually entails higher pricing as well. A region loses its identity a little if all the producers are using slightly different bottle types. As Joachim Krieger pointed out, the Mosel was unique for its green bottles and the Rhine for its brown bottles.

  • On our way to J.J. Prüm yesterday evening, Max von Kunow of von Hövel said that he will have new labels for the 2013 vintage. I was curious to know if he would also switch to the taller 350-mm bottles. Fortunately, he will stick to the 330-mm dark-green bottles. For his auction wines, he will use the 330-mm antique-blue bottles, so that clients can tell the difference between an auction and non-auction wine.

    By the way, Selbach-Oster will have new labels this year, too.

  • Andreas Durst says:

    For me 330 Schlegel is the only classic bottle for Riesling, Sylvaner and “Gemischter Satz” here in palantine area. I like it also for red´s. Brown glass is the one I like most for “Rhein” wines. Masson green also possible. For burgundy wines, white or red, burgundy style is also fine. Bordeaux bottles for me are total NO GO.

  • Andreas Durst says:

    Don´t like those 350 mm Schlegel. It´s possible for those GG wines, but I don´t like those heavy bottles in any way. We can´t talk about sustainability all the time and try to show that our wines are worth to buy only with those heavy bottles. Remember that the fabrication of new glass one needs very much energy. Transport is also much more inefficient.

  • Almost all Grosser Ring – VDP Mosel-Saar-Ruwer members avoid the extra-tall, heavy GG bottle, which either has the embossed or engraved “GG” on the glass. The latter is rare. Moreover, the Erste Lage embossment (a numeral “1” above a grape cluster) was used before the VDP came up with Grosse Lage. Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt uses the taller, heavier bottle with the embossment; Dr. Loosen has a tall bottle with the engraving. Other Grosser Ring members use just the tall bottle with “GG” on the label.

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