Thursday, November 28, 2013

Wine Bottle Sizes...Bigger is Better

Right Bottle Sizes...Bigger (or Smaller) is Better

Rick with Salmanazar served
at daughter Erin's wedding

There is great novelty and fun in opening and serving wine or Champagne from a large bottle. For parties, business dinners, special occasions, private dining, any gathering of a group, there is a bottle size to fit the occasion. 

As mentioned in my last post, "Large format bottles serve festive celebration dinner", we're big fans of serving large format bottles for special occasions. As noted, our collection of large format bottles commemorating the birth years of each of our kids was the basis for our large bottle feature in Wine Spectator Magazine. Those bottles were a big hit and great fun as well as a tribute at our kid's weddings.  

For a large gathering, besides the utility of not having to open so many bottles, a large bottle also affords another unique opportunity - its also fun to have all the quests sign the label of a large bottle as the labels are proportionately larger with the large bottles.

From my blog posting from a recent wine tasting (see Half Bottle Mania offers twice the tasting options), I chose half bottles that allowed for a more extensive tasting. While the fun of big bottles is evident, its not as widely known or practiced that opening half size bottles offers twice the number of tasting experience options in the same setting.

Opening small format bottles that evening allowed us to taste seven different wines instead of perhaps three had we opened regular or standard size bottles. You've no doubt see such small format bottles where they are used for single servings such as for individual consumption on airplanes or in hotel mini-bars. 

Just this week, there was a news feature about  Moët & Chandon unveiling a vending machine offering single serving wine bottles for swank shoppers at tony upscale department stores in London.

Bottle Shapes 

For starters, there are different shape bottles for different wine types. The most common shape bottles are those associated with red wines from Bordeaux or California. These 'Bordeaux' bottles have straight sides and tall shoulders (shown left). 

Notably, many of the popular California wines from Napa and Sonoma are of the Bordeaux varietals, that being, made from grapes generally grown in Bordeaux and comprising Bordeaux wines - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.  White wines using the same bottle shape are Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon. 

Wines grown from grapes most common and popular in the Burgundy wine region of France are Pinot Noir  and Chardonnay. Those wines are associated with bottles with gently sloping shoulders (shown right), often sturdy, heavy bottles, with a slightly fatter girth than the Bordeaux style wine bottles. 

For the most popular wine bottle shape, that associated with Bordeaux and Napa/Sonoma varietals, there are 13 different bottle sizes. The larger sized bottles are produced in less quantity than the standard size bottle, and are always worth more than just double or proportionately the price of the regular size bottle. 

Many California Cabernet Sauvignons, Red Bordeaux, and Red Burgundies are produced and subsequently collected in these larger formats. It is generally accepted that wine will age better - longer, more gracefully and uniformly in a large format bottle - hence another reason for their popularity with collectors. 

I recall seeing several Nebuchadnezzars (12 to 16 liter bottles) and a couple Sovereigns (50 liter bottles) in one California wine producer's cellar for his personal collection as well as to serve their library (shown left).

Horizontal Selection of 1981 Bordeaux and California large format bottles from Rick's Cellar that were served at daugher Erin's wedding.
Not shown: 1981 Chateau Palmer, Lynch Bages, Ducru Beaucaillou, Cos' d_Estournel, Chateau Beaucatel and Silver Oak large format bottles.
The 13 Standard Bordeaux/California Bottle Sizes

Made only for Sparkling Wine.
187 ml.
1/4 of a standard bottle
375 ml.
1/2 of a standard bottle
750 ml.
1 standard bottle
MAGNUM 1.5 liters Equal to 2 standard bottles.
DOUBLE MAGNUM 3 liters Equal to 4 standard bottles.
JEROBOAM - This is what Champagne and Burgundy call their 3 liter bottles. Equal to 4 standard bottles.
REHOBOAM About 4.5 liters. Equal to 6 standard bottles.
JEROBOAM 5 liters Equal to about 6 3/4 standard bottles.
IMPERIAL 6 liters Equal to 8 standard bottles.
METHUSALEM - This is what they call an "Imperial" in Champagne and Burgundy.
This one is a case of wine in one bottle.
9 liters
12 standard bottles.
12 liters.
Equal to 16 standard bottles.
12 to 16 liters
Depending on the country of origin this will be from 16 to 20 standard bottles. 
50 liters
67 standard bottles.

Champagne has its own distinctive popular shape and also comes in its own range of sizes. The design of the Champagne bottle also has gently sloping shoulders. Because of the pressure inside a sparkling (bubbly) wine bottle (as much as 90 psi or three times the pressure in a car tire), they have thicker glass and have a deep 'punt'  or indentation on the underside. Champagne is the most popular and most common in using small and larger bottles. The magnum is a double sized bottle (1.5 liters) and is one of the best selling sized bottles for Champagne. We've all seen the winner of a Formula One race spraying the crowd from a large format, Jeroboam (4 liter bottle) of Champagne. Or more likely, one has see the locker room scene of the World Series or NBA champions, spraying the room from magnums of Champagne. 

Display of range of bottles offered at Moet Chandon Champagne House in
Epernay, Champagne, France

Standard Champagne Bottle Sizes
Bottle Name Bottle Equivalency Capacity
1/4 bottle
18.7 cl
1/2 bottle
37.5 cl
1 bottle
750 ml
2 bottles
1.5 l
4 bottles
3 l
6 bottles
4.5 l
8 bottles
6 l
12 bottles
9 l
16 bottles
12 l
20 bottles
15 l

So, for your next special occasion where you'll be serving wine, that being a gathering of one, or four or more,  think to right-size the bottle to the occasion, seek out a large (or small) bottle for the utility, novelty and for fun.

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