Wine Questionary: Big bottles: What are their names? Wine Questionary:

Big bottles: What are their names?

Wine may go back many millennia to Bronze Age times, but the wine bottle as we know it today is only about three centuries old. It was only the development of the cork-stoppered, cylindrical glass bottle - which could be stacked on its side, keeping the cork airtight and wet - that permitted the development of ageworthy wines that improve with cellaring.

The "fifth" bottle, originally one-fifth of a gallon, now rounded off metrically to 750 ml., was said to be a suitable ration for one man with dinner, back in the days when men were men (and most wine was quite low in alcoholic strength). One theory holds that this size bottle was actually the largest that early glass-blowers could produce with one full breath.

But even in those early days, for very special occasions, wineries would put up their product in impressive, oversize bottles. For reasons lost to history, most of these bottles were given the names of Biblical figures like the evil king Nebuchadnezzar and the long-lived Methuselah.

The naming conventions varied somewhat among wine regions, with the two standards being Champagne and Bordeaux in France. In case you run into a big bottle, here's a quick field guide to the larger sizes:

Magnum: 1.5 liters (two bottles)
Jeroboam: 3 liters (four bottles)
Rehoboam: 4.5 liters (six bottles)
Methuselah: 6 liters (eight bottles)
Salmanazar: 9 liters (12 bottles)
Balthazar: 12 liters (16 bottles)
Nebuchadnezzar: 15 liters (20 bottles)

Even larger sizes are occasionally seen, although they are very rare:

Solomon: 20 liters (28 bottles)
Primat: 27 liters (36 bottles)

Magnum: 1.5 liters (two bottles)
Marie-Jeanne: 2.25 liters (three bottles)
Double Magnum: 3 liters (four bottles)
Jeroboam: 4.5 liters (six bottles) *
Impèriale: 6 liters (eight bottles)

* Because of recent U.S. regulations limiting larger bottles to even liter sizes, some modern red-wine "Jeroboams" are now 5 liters rather than the traditional 4.5.

Wondering about those Biblical names? Thanks to John Holland's Champagne Magic site for these mini-biographies:

Jeroboam (Founder and first king of Israel, 931-910 BC)
Rehoboam, son of Solomon (King of Judah, 922-908 BC)
Methuselah (Biblical patriarch who lived to the age of 969)
Salmanazar (King of Assyria, 859-824 BC)
Balthazar (Regent of Babylon, son of Nabonide, 539BC)
Nebuchadnezzar (King of Babylon, 605-562 BC)

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