There’s no doubt that if you want to impress your fellow drinkers or diners, you need to have a big bottle on your table. There is something about buying your wine in a magnum and bigger which shrieks ‘I’m the kind of cool person with cash to flash and the knowledge of wines to know what to splash it on.’
Wine is put into bigger bottles because it generally ages better – the amount of space for oxygen in a bigger bottle is far lower in proportion to the amount of wine therefore allowing much slower oxidation and ageing – which is why it’s popular for Bordeaux wines.
But it’s also great for the ‘show-off’ effect which is why Champagne is often available in big bottles.
Just as a matter of interest, most champagne isn’t made in the larger bottles you might buy them in – second fermentation in anything above a Jeroboam creates too much pressure for most bottles, so big bottles of champagne are generally made in magnums or Jeroboams before being decanted into something larger and more impressive.
Most people are fairly okay with knowing that a magnum is 1.5 litres and therefore the equivalent of two bottles of wine, but do you know what the ones bigger than that are called?
There are 2 systems of naming your big bottles – one which applies to Bordeaux bottles (straight-sided with a short, steep shoulder) and Champagne or Burgundy bottles.
Here are the different sizes and different names for both:
Capacity in litres Bordeaux name Champagne/Burgundy name
1.5 litres (2 bts) Magnum Magnum
2.25 litres (3 bts) Marie-Jeanne n/a
3 litres (4 bts) Double Magnum Jeroboam
4.5 litres (6 bts) Jeroboam Rehoboam
6 litres (8 bts) Imperiale Methuselah
9 litres (12 bts) n/a Salamanzar
12 litres (16 bts) n/a Balthazar
15 litres (20 bts) n/a Nebuchadnezzar
And why the weird names?
No-one really seems to know, although we know what they are – they’re the names of kings and grandees from the Old Testament.
It seems as if people just liked the words and decided they added a certain regal air to the occasion!