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Wine bottle sizes: Methuselah vs Balthazar

Most people have heard of magnums, but what about those names for bigger sizes, and where can you find the world’s largest wine bottle?

Choosing between a Salmanazar and a Rehoboam might not be your average weekend wine dilemma, but have you ever wondered which order these wine bottle sizes go in?

So-called standard bottles haven’t dominated for as long as might be assumed. Bordeaux’s wine council, the CIVB, said that 75cl was only set as the standard measure in 1866, for instance.

In the 20th century, Sir Winston Churchill was reported to have drunk two bottles of Champagne per day on occasion, albeit this referred to imperial pint-sized bottles – around 50cl.

Beyond the 75cl bottle, a 1.5-litre magnum can be a particularly popular bottle size among wine lovers for a number of reasons.

Any readers that have been looking at Bordeaux 2019 en primeur releases may have seen châteaux offering magnums, as well as regular bottles.

Apart from adding some glitz to a dinner or special occasion, the larger size is also considered to have an effect on the wine’s development – predominantly due to the greater ratio of wine to oxygen.

‘The evolution of the wine is slower [in magnum] and the integration of all aromas seems to be more harmonious,’ Michel Drappier, of Champagne Drappier, told Decanter last year ahead of a panel tasting examining differences between magnums and bottles.

Beyond magnum, larger bottle sizes take on Biblical references, as outlined by the Comité Champagne, and in this article by auction house iDealwine.

A ‘Jeroboam’ generally contains three litres , or the equivalent of four standard bottles, although the term ‘double magnum‘ is more likely to be used if you’re dining at a Bordeaux château.

According to auction house Sotheby’s, Jeroboams of Champagne are ‘rarely seen at auction because most are drunk’ at celebrations.

In Bordeaux, a Jeroboam refers to a five-litre bottle, although it was 4.5 litres in the past; Burgundy and Champagne winemakers would refer to a 4.5-litre bottle as a Rehoboam.

Beyond that, wine bottle names include:

  • Six litres: Methuselah, also known as an Imperial in Bordeaux
  • Nine litres: Salmanazar
  • Twelve litres: Balthazar
  • Fifteen litres: Nebuchadnezzar, or ‘Nabuchodonosor’
  • Eighteen litres: Melchior, or Solomon

The world’s largest wine bottle?

Even larger bottles have been recorded in some cases.

In 2004, Sotheby’s sold a 130-litre bottle of Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 for US$55,812 in a charity auction.

Nicknamed ‘Maximus’, the bottle weighed 68kg when empty.

‘It would serve 600 people with a couple of glasses each,’ Serena Sutcliffe MW, the head of Sotheby’s international wine department at the time, told Decanter.com after the sale.

However, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s largest wine bottle is 4.17 metres tall.

The bottle lives in Switzerland and was filled with 3,094 litres of wine in 2014, according to Guinness, which credited the record to André Vogel.

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