Friday, May 2, 2008
We were walking down a city street when my friend Eric asked about this HUGE wine bottle he'd seen. He thought it must have been about "This Big" - and he held his hand almost three feet off the ground.
It reminded me of the bottle displays we saw in a cave in the Loire last fall (click the photo to see it enlarged, and just maybe the resolution is sufficient to show the titles on the largest bottle - it's called a Balthazar, and is the equivalent of 16 regular bottles). Eric's question encouraged me to look up, for about the fifteenth time, the various bottle sizes and their related names, most of which were taken from Old Testament Kings.
So here, for the true wine geek, is a reference list of wine bottles by volume, along with their related names. Note the source of my confusion - in their typically provincial way, Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy have different naming conventions for some, but not all, bottle sizes. This is the sort of trip-you-up detail they like to ask on the Sommelier's exam!
|Name||Derivation||# Bots (Champ.)||# Bots (Bord)||# Bots (Burg)||# Liters|
|Standard Bottle||Approx 1/5 gal.||1||1||1||.75 L|
|Jeroboam||Biblical. 1st King of Northern Kingdom||4||6||4||3/4.5/3|
|Rehoboam||Biblical. 1st King of Judea||6||--||6||4.5L|
|Methuselah||Oldest Man in the bible||8||--||8||6.0L|
|Salmanazar||Biblical. Assyrian King||12||--||12||9.0L|
|Balthazar||Biblical. One of 3 Wise Men||16||16||16||12.0L|
|Nebuchadnezzar||Biblical King of Babylon||20||20||20||15.0L|
We Six Kings...
So who were these guys, and why are bottles named after them? Here, I answer the first question. The second question is one I still quest after, between my more serious job of tilting at windmills.
- Jeroboam (Founder and first king of Israel, 931-910 BC)
- Rehoboam (King of Judah, 922-908 BC)
- Methuselah (Whose most notable achievement seems to be that he lived to the age of 969. Man, if I live that long I hope to be remembered for more than just being old. But can you imagine the size of this guy's birthday cake?)
- Salmanazar (King of Assyria, 859-824 BC)
- Balthazar (Regent of Babylon, 539 BC)
- Nebuchadnezzar (King of Babylon, 605-562 BC, and not a very nice guy, if my memory serves)
Massive Bottles - Trophies or White Elephants?
Wineries produce very few large format bottles because they require manual processing. Once they choose to release a bottling that is larger than a magnum, it no longer fits on a standard bottling line. Therefore, I've seen many large format bottles that have cork flaws. Contributors to this problem include non-standard cork sizes, the inconsistencies of a manual process, and hand-dipping or capsuling. Each step means higher labor costs and higher risk of poor closure.
But collectors attracted by the rarity of such bottles are also attracted by the fact that wine ages much more slowly and gracefully in larger bottles, thus outlasting standard-sized bottles from the same vintage. However, such graceful aging is quickly spoiled if the closure is not perfect, and I've seen wineries discreetly hide large format bottles with imperfect closures that were oxidizing far more quickly than their Standard or Magnum counterparts.
So, though the rarity of such bottles makes them prized among collectors, I wonder how often such bottles are found to be disappointing once opened. Please weigh in with comments if you've had an experience - good or bad - with bottles larger than magnums.
Announcing A Collectible Magnum From Oak Savanna
Oak Savanna 2004 Red Table Wine "1000 Hills" $90 (1.5 L Magnum) - A Top Seller in our wine shop, Tastes of the Valleys. This is the 2nd, very limited, vintage of this proprietary blend (60% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc) that is as unique as its place of origin.
Fruit-forward with aromas and flavors of black cherry, blueberry, cassis made more complex with hints of dusty herbs and earth that lead into a finish of spicy black pepper, tar and toasty oak.
Just over 100 magnums were bottled, making these beautiful, tall bottles a striking centerpiece for any collection or special event. Several inches taller than a normal magnum, the black label on this tall, thin bottle is just plain sexy! It does, however, require special handling.
Dave the Wine Merchant
"The true measure of a civilization is not the census, nor the size of its cities or its crops, but the kind of person the country turns out" Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
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