Have you ever seen a gigantic bottle of wine and wondered what it was called? Or have you heard someone refer to a Jeroboam and just smiled politely because you had no clue what they were talking about? Well I have. So to save myself from future embarassment I decided to learn about the different size bottles. And since sharing is caring, I thought I would write a post of what I have discovered.
I’m not a real history buff, but put into the context of wine, I found it very interesting. So first, a history lesson to establish how we got to the ‘standard’ size bottle of 750 ml. Don’t worry, it is a short lesson.
Around 3,000 BC – The first true glass was produced in Northern Syria.
1st century BC – Romans developed the technique of glassblowing, which was used to make wine bottles.
These bottles were too fragile to transport so they were basically decorative. Wine was stored in clay pots called amphorae and poured into the glass bottles for special occasions and for the nobility. When the glass bottles did need to be shipped, they were wrapped in straw. The straw provided protection and allowed them to be stored upright. Think Chianti bottles.
17th century – The invention of the coal burning furnace created stronger and darker glass which allowed wine to be stored and transported in the bottle. The shape was rounder than the bottles of today which meant they couldn’t be stored on their sides.
In the 1730’s – As the number of different wine producers and varietals began to increase, people wanted to keep and store wine. They also wanted to age wine. In order to store the wine, the shape of the bottles changed to the straight sided bottles common today.
The sizes of the bottles were not consistent though and no ‘standard’ size was possible. They tended to range in size from 600-800 ml. The bottles were formed by the glass blower with a single breath of air. The average lungful of air was 600-800 ml. Pretty cool right? Due to the inconsistency, it was often illegal to sell wine from the bottles. People brought their own bottles to the merchant and the wine was measured from the barrel.
1979 – The US standardized the wine bottle size to 750 ml. Europe quickly followed suit in order to export their wines into the US market.
Now that we know where the ‘standard’ 750 ml comes from, we can look at the other sizes that were created and their names. This is not the complete list of sizes, there are some other less common ones listed below, but these are the most commonly used for still wine.
Box Wine – usually 3.0L or equal to a Double Magnum
Rehoboam – 4.5L or equal to 6 standard bottles. It is used for Champagne.
Methuselah – Same size as the Imperial bottle at 6L. It is usually used for sparkling wines and is a Burgandy shaped bottle.
Balthazar – 12.0L or equal to 16 standard bottles.
Nebuchadnezzar – 15.0L or equal to 20 standard bottles.
What’s in a Name?
Where do the names of the sizes come from? Well, after doing some research, I discovered most of them are Biblical names.
Magnum – Comes from the Latin word magnus, which means “great in size”
Jeroboam – TK
Rehoboam – SonK
Methuselah – Referenced in the Hebrew Bible as the oldest living man who lived 969 years. Impressive indeed.
Salmanazar – 8th Century B.C. King of Assyria
Balthazar – One of the Three Wise Men. Yup, those Three Wise Men
Nebuchadnezzar – Kreigned between
So there you have it, the sizes and names of wine bottles you might come across. Most producers are not making the large size bottles unless it is for display, however, you can find some of them at auctions. The large bottles are better for ageing apparently so they are popular with collectors.