Bigger Bottles Don’t Necessarily Mean Cheaper Wine
It is interesting to listen to the wine novice take a look at the different bottles of wine at the store. Very often a comment is made about the larger bottles of wine and how only a drunk would need to have that much wine, especially for that price. Yet the size of the bottles and the names they are given goes back beyond the Middle Ages and is more a reflection of the winemaker and what they feel is better for the storage of the wine more than the consumer’s wish to actually consume.
There Is No “Standard” Bottle of Wine
Some wine bottles are shaped like flasks. Some bottles have high necks. Other bottles don’t. Even though many of us consider a 750ml bottle of wine a “standard” bottle, there are other countries and winemakers that consider their standard 700ml, 720ml, or even 800ml. It’s just because most people tend to drink the wines that come in 750ml bottles do they consider that to be the standard bottle of wine.
Different Sizes Invoke Different Names
Bottles of wine can come in very tiny bottles that are single serve and giant bottles that contain the equivalent of 40 regular bottles of wine. That’s because winemakers recognized very long ago that wine is used for a wide variety of events and occasions. Some people simply want a small bottle of wine for dinner and prefer not to open an entire bottle to get one glass out of it. Others are hosting grand parties or banquets and need the larger bottles as a convenience so that they don’t have to open a new bottle of wine every fifth or sixth guest. So sure, everyone can purchase a larger than normal bottle of wine if they want to – but the bottles were meant for occasion, not for individualized alcohol consumption.
Isn’t There a Difference in the Quality of the Wine?
Many consumers tend to avoid the smaller and larger bottles of wine because there is a perception that the quality of the wine isn’t as good. For some wines, such as those that utilize the Champagne method where a second fermentation takes place in the bottle, the winemaker simply adjusts the yeast and sugar additions for the larger bottle. The larger bottles take the same amount of time to mature as the smaller bottles if that is needed and when it is time to uncork them, you are going to get the same great flavors from the smallest bottle of wine available to the largest.
So What Kinds of Sizes Are There?
The Smaller Sizes
It is interesting to note that as the sizes of the wine bottles get bigger, they are named after Biblical kings. The smallest bottle, however, is named the Piccolo, or the quarter bottle. That’s because it contains a quarter amount of a regular bottle of wine, which is perfect for a glass or maybe two with dinner. The next bottle is a Chopine, or a third of a regular bottle, and then you come to the demi bottle, or half bottle.
If you happen to like sweet wines, then you may be aware of the Jennie, which is a bottle that contains two-thirds what a regular bottle does. This bottle is not generally used for traditional sparkling or still wines, but is used for some fruit wines and others that are much sweeter than regular wine. After the Jennie is the Clavelin, but that is primarily used just for vin jaune, or yellow wine.
The Larger Sizes
Once you have reached the standard bottle and you have realized that you are going to need more wine for whatever occasion you happen to be throwing or attending, the next size up is the Magnum, which is two regular bottles of wine. Going up to a bottle that contains three regular bottles you get the Marie Jeanne, which is used quite a bit in the distribution of port.
If you still need more, then one of the most popular sizes is the Jeroboam, who was the first king of the Northern Kingdom. Some folks call this bottle the Double Magnum as well, since it holds between 4 and 6 bottles of regular wine. It is between four and six bottles because different regions hold different standards for how much ends up going into the bottle. A Jeroboam bottle of still wine usually tends to contain a bit more wine than a bottle of sparkling wine.
The next size up after the Jeroboam is the Rehoboam, who was the first king of Judea after it separated from the nation of Israel. It also holds six times the amount of a regular bottle. If you need something larger, you can always get the Imperial or the Methusela depending on the wine, which is eight times the regular bottle. And yes, though these wines are still the same quality as their smaller bottled counterparts, once you reach this size of bottle, they become difficult to pour, so they tend to be more for show than anything else.
Going larger than 8 times a regular bottle is either the Mordechai or the Salmanazar, which are both 12 times the size of a regular bottle. Mordechai was the cousin of Queen Esther, who ruled Persia, while Salmanazar was an Assyrian king. Even bigger than that, though, is the Balthazar, which is 16 times the size of a regular bottle. But remember – it goes up to 40 times the size of a regular bottle – we’re getting there!
At 20 times the size of a regular bottle you get the Nebudchadnezzar, which was the name of the Babylonian King. For some he was considered one of the greatest kings to ever live, though because he occupied territories, others view him as one of the greatest villains ever. And for most wines, the largest bottle is at 24 times the size of a regular bottle and that is called the Melchoir, who according to legend was the name of one of the wise men who visited Jesus after He was born.
Only Champagne is served in bottles bigger than the Melchoir, and those bottles are named the Sovereign, the Primat, and the Melchizedek. These bottles are especially more for show and actually take two or three people to pour the wine from them if that is ever done.
The other reason why bottles of wine are so large, and especially Champagne, is that they are also utilized to ship the wine to different locations. Yes, barrels are more traditionally used for wine, but remember that Champagne is fermented a second time in the bottle? By shipping in the larger bottles, a winemaker can create the appropriate wine, ship it, and have the distributor put it in smaller bottles before the fermentation process as finished so that the winemaker himself doesn’t have to ship 40 bottles – he or she can only ship one.
But What About the Different Colors of Wine Bottles?
There is a lot of myth and legend out there about why certain types of wine bottles are different colors. After all, there are dark green ones, light green ones, red ones, and a number of other different shades. Most of the stories revolve around the idea that the color of the glass helps support the wine, its continuing fermentation, or that it even helps increase the flavors and aroma of the wine itself. All of that isn’t true. In fact, the primary reason behind the different colors of bottles is that it simply is another marketing device beyond the label itself for a consumer to be able to identify the proper bottle of wine they wish to purchase.
So when it comes to the sizes and colors of the different bottles of wine, remember that except for some of the colors and maybe some that come in unique shapes, they are meant for the customer to be able to properly identify the wine and how much the bottle contains. And by knowing that, you can help the next wine novice you meet at the store or the vineyard understand why wine bottles are the way they are too.