Nothing kicks off a dinner party better than a Magnum of wine. The bottle is impressive and presents beautifully. Guests feel festive immediately. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of large formats. And why all the unusual names?
The primary advantage of a larger bottle is that the wines actually age better. More wine in a container means less oxygen and sulfur dioxide in the bottle. This effect, in turn, helps the wine to age more slowly. Because the wine ages more gradually, it has a chance to develop more complexity. The thicker glass in large formats also helps to safeguard against temperature variations — the most critical factor in wine preservation and aging.
The most common bottle sizes available are these:
Standard – 750 milliliters
Magnum – 1.5 Liters. 2 bottles
Double Magnum or Jeroboam – 3.0 Liters. 4 bottles
Imperiale – 6 Liters. 8 bottles. Used for still wine.
Methuselah – 6.0 Liters. 8 bottles. Used for Champagne.
Salmanazar – 9.0 Liters. 12 bottles
On an even grander scale, we have these:
Balthazar – 12 Liters. 16 bottles
Nebuchadnezzar – 15 Liters. 20 bottles
Melchior – 18 Liters. 24 bottles
Solomon – 20 Liters. 26 bottles. Typically for Champagne only.
As for the Biblical names associated with the various sizes, there is no definitive answer. One theory is that the old English word jorum, used to refer to a large drinking bowl, became linked with the biblical character Joram. Eventually the word Jeroboam evolved, denoting any large bowl, bottle or container for liquid. Once a Biblical reference was established, subsequent large bottles were also given Biblical names.
And in many ways, the names seem appropriate. For example Methusaleh (6 Liters – 8 bottles) is named after the Jewish King who lived a thousand years. A testament to the aging potential for wine in such a large bottle, perhaps?
Melchior (18 Liters – 24 bottles) was one of the Three Wise Men who presented gifts at Jesus’ nativity. Balthazar (12 Liters – 16 bottles) was also one of the Wise Men. However, another Balthazar also ruled Babylonia. Does the name refer to that king? Undoubtedly, after consuming a Balthazar, many other associations might manifest. For now, we’ll leave it at that!
What about the cost of large formats versus a standard bottle? You’d think that since you’re buying in bulk that you’d save money, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the big bottles of wine. Magnums and Double Magnums are actually a bit more expensive because of the cost of the large bottles themselves.
And what about “little” bottles?
There are splits or 187 milliliter bottles, primarily used for sparkling wines and Champagnes. For a fun lunch, try a California sparkler, like Chandon, a nice match for a Cobb salad, and not too filling. You can still function afterwards and get back to work!
A little more common are the half-bottles or fillettes as they are called in France. They hold 375 milliliters of wine and are the standard starting size for many wineries. The advantage of a 375 ml bottle is obvious — if you only want a little more wine and don’t care to open a fresh bottle, there’s your answer. Also, if you are having a meal and each food course is quite different in style, you can experience a small taste of many wines. Finally, because of the bottle size, wine matures quicker in a small bottle, letting you enjoy a younger vintage more rapidly than with a regular size bottle.
The disadvantage of half-bottles is that the selection is usually very small. Most retail stores only carry dessert wines in half-bottles. Also, since wines in half-bottles don’t sell as rapidly as others, be wary of the quality of the wine; it may have been sitting on that shelf just a little too long? Another aspect is the price. Half-bottles are usually a good bit more than half the price of a regular bottle. Why? Bottling costs are the same, corks, labels, etc.
Before the days of air removal through pumping, empty half-bottles were quite handy. If we’d opened a regular bottle but only wanted a glass or two, we could fill a (clean) half-bottle to the brim, cork it and know it would be good for another day or two.
Another interesting bottle size is the 500 milliliter. Very seldom seen, it was deemed a smart choice by the French Government when trying to battle drunk driving. It was believed that if a couple drank two such bottles or a total of a liter, the total per person consumption would still be acceptable by drinking laws. It did not fly too well with wine drinkers and is still not very popular.
Here are a few of our large formats to enjoy at your next party…..or for a long conversation! To order write email@example.com or call 850-687-1370.
2015 Dominus MAGNUM. 100 pts. $599. 2 bottles available.
2013 Bond Melbury MAGNUM by Harlan. 97 pts. $995. One bottle.
2012 Caymus Napa LITER. $119. 4 bottles. Fall arrival.
2013 Caymus Napa LITER $109. 4 bottles. Fall arrival.
2014 Caymus Napa LITER $89. 12 bottles. Fall arrival.
2012 Venissa Bianco HALF LITER. $158. 3 bottles.
2011 Venissa Rosso HALF LITER. $129. 4 bottles.
2007 Royal Tokaji Essencia HALF BOTTLE. 100 pts. $589. 3 bottles.
2016 William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru MAGNUM. $189. 3 bottles.
2016 Bouchard Greves Vignes de l’enfant Jesus MAGNUM. $229. 3 bottles.
2014 Château d’Yquem HALF BOTTLE. 97-99 pts. $159. 10 bottles.
2015 Château d’Yquem HALF BOTTLE . 98-100 pts. $169. 12 bottles.
1988 Château Malartic-Lagravière DOUBLE MAGNUM. $359. 2 bottles.
1996 Château Léoville-Poyferré MAGNUM. 93 pts. $359. 6 bottles.
2000 Château Tertre Roteboeuf DOUBLE MAGNUM. 98 pts. $1,999. 3 bottles.
2005 Château Clos de l’Oratoire MAGNUM. 94 pts. $199. 3 bottles.
2005 Château Tertre Roteboeuf DOUBLE MAGNUM. 98 pts. $2,099. 3 bottles.
2009 Château Bourgneuf DOUBLE MAGNUM. $299. 4 bottles.
2009 Château Pape Clément MAGNUM. 100 pts. $399. 5 bottles.
2010 Château Greysac IMPERIALE. (6 Liters). $299. One bottle.
2015 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou MAGNUM, 98 pts, $365. 6 bottles.
2015 Château Beychevelle MAGNUM. 94 pts. $169. 5 bottles.
2015 Château Cos d’Estournel MAGNUM. 98 pts, $348. 6 bottles