I have always been fascinated with large format bottles. You’re all familiar with the regular size bottle, the magnum (2 times a normal bottle) and probably the half bottle (1/2 the normal bottle). They actually come much, much bigger than that though. It’s probably worth a few minutes to talk about the different sizes – who knows, you might have to provide drink for fifty people some day and only have a single bottle. It better be a big one!
First, some basics:
One quart ~ one liter, give or take.
A standard size bottle = 750 ml, or 0.75 liter, or about 0.75 quarts
Based on this there’s about 5 normal sized bottles in a gallon. I met a man who always converted wine prices into dollars per gallon, not sure why but he liked to think in those terms.
You’ll see magnums (1500 ml, or two normal bottles) in any liquor store. These are generally less expensive table wines. Frequently these magnums are less expensive per ml than a normal bottle. This relationship changes when you get into better wines. Then the price of the larger bottle tends to be more expensive per ml than the normal size. This can escalate as the sizes go up.
So what can you get? Here’s a quick breakdown:
375 ml – the half bottle. Usually more expensive wines will bottle some of these. Think Bordeaux, California Cabernet and a lot of others. Vintage ports also bottle in this size.
500 ml – this is a dessert wine size for the most part. Ice wine, specialty ports, dessert cordials.
750 ml – the standard wine bottle
1500 ml – the magnum. This is twice the standard bottle.
3000 ml – the double magnum. Four standard bottles in here. This size you can still open and pour with two hands. After this they’re going to get a bit unwieldy. Below is a picture of the sizes so far from my cellar:
So here we have a half bottle of 1998 Chateau Gruaud Larose (St. Julien), a 500 ml bottle of Falesco’s 2006 Pomele (a delicious dessert style wine), a regular bottle of Shelalara 2005 Amarone (made in a metal garage building in Coventry RI from imported grapes), a magnum of Rex Goliath Cabernet Sauvignon, and a double magnum of the 2004 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino. Prices are all over the map, left to right (what we paid) – $20, $18, $32, $7, $200+. The double magnum was a fiftieth birthday present from my wife and is my favorite bottle of wine ever. Not sure where I’m going to open it.
The Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies are shown for scale, and because they are our favorite cookie and go well with all the wines pictured!
OK – now they start getting big:
5000 ml – Jeroboam. This is primarily a Bordeaux size but other wineries bottle them. Pride Mountain bottles a Jeroboam of their Cab sometimes I believe. And no – I have no idea why they are all referred to by biblical names from this point.
6000 ml – Imperiale – this is now 8 normal bottles. Also known as a Methuselah in Burgundy or Champagne.
9000 ml – Salmanzar – this is now a case of normal bottles.
12000 ml – Balthazar
15000 ml – Nebuchadnezzar
18000 ml – Melchior – two cases of normal bottles.
30000 ml – Melchizedek. This is forty regular bottles of wine. Forty. For the past few sizes we are talking about bottles the size of small children. How do you deal with these? You need a special contraption that you can strap the bottle into and which allows you to swing it down in a controlled manner to pour. These really big ones must be events unto themselves when they get opened, not to mention they are usually really, really good wines as well. I’ve never had the experience of seeing one popped open. Maybe someday.
There are a few other sizes and names depending on region, but this covers the gist of it.
For a little more perspective here’s a picture from Wikipedia:
The bottle on the lower step is a Double Magnum – gives you an impression as to how large the biggest one is (which is a Balthazar). Now consider a bottle over two times the largest one in the picture.
I have a double magnum of 2009 Chateau Clos les Lunelles coming as well – so there will be two big bottles in the cellar soon. I think they are extremely cool, and hopefully will get more over the years. They do tend to be expensive however. Certainly not in the everyday category. While Cheri and I can put a dent in a bottle pretty quickly, I don’t think popping large format bottles for the two of us is in our future.
If you’ve get some pictures or stories of your own large format bottles please send them along.
A votre sante!