How big is a bottle?
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 during the coming holiday and New Year's season, here's a quick field guide to the larger bottle sizes:
Have you had the experience of sharing an oversize bottle? Can any historians shed light on the origin of the practice of using Biblical names? Drop me a note at email@example.com. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note - your response to last week's article about corks, for example (which I'll summarize in a future edition), was overwhelming. But I'll answer as many as I can; and please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine. Please feel free to get in touch if you'd like to comment on our topics and tasting notes, suggest a topic for a future bulletin, or just talk about wine.
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Ambrosia was the first wine direct marketer to offer ultra-premium Napa and Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon. Now, www.ambrosiawine.com brings the best of current releases and well-aged Cabs to web surfers, too.
A crisp, affordable French white
Pale brass color, with musky melon and crisp citric aromas and flavors, lemon-lime and a whiff of tangerine. Crisp, dry and very tart, it makes a fresh and palate-cleansing table wine. U.S. importer: Kysela Pere et Fils Ltd., Winchester, Va. (Nov. 7, 1999)
FOOD MATCH: Although traditionally a seafood wine, it made a perfect match with veal chops finished with a pan-reduction sauce with butter and lemon juice.
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Vol. 1, No. 42, Nov. 8, 1999