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Wine in Biblical Proportions

The vast majority of wine is sold in 750 ml bottles. In Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux and, to a lesser extent, other French regions and other countries, wineries may offer a small portion of a vintage (particularly, excellent ones) in non-standard sized bottles. These monster bottles typically cost more than the equivalent amount of wine in 750 ml bottles. Is paying the premium worth it?


RANGE OF BOTTLE SIZES

The different formats of Burgundy and Champagne are set forth in the table below. (Bordeaux and other French regions sometimes use different names of large bottles in sizes greater than Magnum).

 

 

Volume (ml)   

Standard

Bottle

  Equivalent  

  Number of

Glasses

 

Piccolo

200

¼

2

 

Demi or Half

375

½

3

 

Standard Bottle

750

1

6

 

Magnum

1500

2

12

 

Jéroboam or Double Magnum

3000

4

24

 

Rehoboam

4500

6

36

 

Methuselah or Impériale

6000

8

48

 

Balthazar

12000

16

96

 

Nebuchadnezzar

15000

20

120

 

Solomon or Melchior

18000

24

144

 

Sovereign

26250

35

210

 

Primat or Goliath

27000

36

216

 

Melchizedek or Midas

30000

40

240

 

 

Most of the non-standard bottles are named for notable Biblical figures.

Piccolo means “small” in Italian.

Demi means “half” in French.

Magnum means “great” in Latin. 14.5” high

Jéroboam led a revolt against Rehoboam and as a result, became King of Israel. He was king when Rome was founded 753 BC. His name means “he increases the people.” 19.5” high

Rehoboam was David’s grandson and Solomon’s son. He served as King of Israel and then Kingdom of Judah after the schism that formed the independent Kingdom of Israel. His name means “he who enlarges the people.” 20.5” high

Methuselah lived 969 years which, according to the Bible, made him the oldest man. 22” high

Salmanazar was one of five Assyrian kings named Salmanazar who were in power between the 13th and 8th centuries BC. 24.5” high

Balthazar was the last King of Babylon. His name means “king of treasures." 28” high

Nebuchadnezzar became King of Babylon in 604 BC and probably the most powerful of all the Babylonian kings. He was famous for building the Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. 31” tall and 83.5 lbs.

Solomon succeeded his father, David, as King of Israel and was most famous for his wisdom and building the Temple of Jerusalem. Melchior was another of the Magi.

Sovereign was created by Taittinger Champagne to christen the largest cruise ship in the world, the “Sovereign of the Seas.”

Primat / Goliath was the giant who lost his battle with David. 40” tall, 10” wide and 143 lbs

Melchizedek was the King of Jerusalem and Midas, the King of Crete who had the golden touch.

Other wine bottle sizes include the 500 ml bottle, most commonly encountered with Sherry, German dessert wines, Port and other sweet wines such as Hungarian Tokay, and the 620 ml bottle used for the Jura white, Vin Jaune.


DOES SIZE MATTER?

Yes.

Large format bottles are prized by collectors because of their smaller air to wine ratios. With less air between the cork and wine, the wine oxidizes at a slower pace, which enables greater development of layers of flavor and aroma than in standard bottles. Wine experts contend that this longer maturation period results in better wine as well as longer life.

The greatest enemy in aging wine is a significant change in its temperature. The large format bottles are less sensitive to temperature fluctuations because the glass is thicker and the greater volume of wine takes longer to change temperature. Hence, the large format bottles help protect the wines from temperature variation as they age which extends their lives.

Large format bottles of Champagne are really only for show. It is more difficult for Champagne to undergo its second fermentation in larger bottles. Also, Champagne does not really benefit from long aging. Typically, large format Champagnes are produced on special request and are filled using wine poured from single 750 ml bottles prior to sale. Champagne bottles larger than Jéroboamare very rare.

Because winemakers bottle only a small amount of wine in large format, these bottles are rare. Some are special releases linked to a winery event such as an anniversary or reserved for charity auctions. Collectors generally are willing to pay a premium for superb wines and for those in rare formats, and in combination, ever the more so.

And of course, a big part of the appeal of the large format bottles is the grand presentation. They unquestionably make a dramatic statement that speaks of the host's generosity and discernment.


OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Large format bottles are heavy and therefore, it is difficult to pour from them. For red wines, decanting is the best course of action. One needs to have strong friends around to help.

Large format bottles have larger diameter corks that can be more difficult to remove. Also, they are often stored upright in wine shops which may lead to the corks' drying out.

It is a bit tricky to chill large bottles of Champagne. Many are too large for ice buckets and most people don't have enough room in their refrigerators. Perhaps in a bathtub? That would require a lot of ice and certainly would undercut the glamorous presentation.

Most importantly, large format bottles are more difficult to store; many wine refrigerators and storage bins or racks cannot accommodate them.


IS THE PREMIUM WORTH IT?

Yes, but mostly for wines with long aging potential. The increased value of wine in a large format bottle due to its longer maturation and life, its scarcity and its impressively majestic appearance outweigh the negative issues.



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