The wine world is full of so many cool things! It is a world that reminds you every day that no matter how much you know, there is always something new to learn. A world that is filled with tiny regions to explore like the Jura that is a mere 2000ha as well as massive regions like the Upper Mississippi River Valley that has approximately 5 million hectares.
As you delve into this wonderful world, you find out that there the little things actually aren’t trivial. They are there for a reason. Things like the shape of the glass you pour your wine in. Like the reason the lip of a wine glass is sloped inward to capture the aromas of the wine and direct them to your nose. Early on, you hear terms like aroma and bouquet and wonder what the heck the difference is. Then one day, you learn that “aroma” is the smell of young wine while “bouquet” refers to a more mature wine. Do you remember the day you learned that the tradition of clinking glasses came from Roman times where they used this method to make sure no one is trying to poison another. All cool stuff, right?
Large format bottles are always a crowd pleaser when they come out at an event. The oohs and aahs as one is opened make it a memorable experience. You know that each bottle had to have been hand filled, because lets face it, they aren’t putting those things on a typical bottling line. Quite simply, large bottle formats equal celebration and I’m always happy to celebrate! I mean, it would be pretty cool to serve your entire wedding guest list from a single bottle, wouldn’t it?
One of the things that has always intrigued me, were the cool names representing the size of the wine bottles. I have always wondered where the names came from and what they meant. So I thought it would be fun to play a little name game with them. (the meaning behind the title!)
The smallest bottle you can find is a Piccolo. These typically are only for sparkling wines and holds one glass. Who only has one glass of sparkling? I don’t know, but I guess there are people out there. Piccolo is Italian for “small” and is a half-sized flute and is a member of the woodwind musical world. Isn’t that clever? Get it? Half-sized flute and it represents one glass of sparkling?!
Next up is Demi. Although I could not find any direct proof where this name was derived from, but I have always believed it comes from demi-god. A demi-god is the offspring of a god and a mortal and has lesser divine status than a god. So does this mean that a demi has a lower status than a full bottle? It holds two and a half glasses of wine. I think the biggest issue with the demi is that due to its size, it does age the wine at a faster rate, but in its defense, it is perfect for a weekday pour and of course, it allows us to get our hands on one of those expensive bottles. If you can’t afford a full bottle, maybe your wallet can handle the demi, especially for those lovely Sauternes!
The next three sizes aren’t exactly awe inspiring in terms of their names. In fact they are kind of humdrum. The 750ml is simply known as Standard which makes sense since by definition standard is what is accepted as normal. These bottles provide you with 5 glasses, while the next size up offers the owner 7 glasses. A Liter doesn’t get more spot on as a descriptor since it holds one liter of wine or about 1/3 more than the standard bottle. The last of these boring names is the magnum. It is the size of two standard bottles.
Alright, time to get into the intriguing names again! Many of these bottles are named after ancient kings of Israel. Although there isn’t any solid evidence as to why these names came about, in an ask Dr. Vinny article in Wine Spectator, he mentions that it may be due to a glassmaker who was also a biblical scholar.
A Jeroboam holds twenty glasses of wine and is equivalent to four standard bottles. Being the first king of the biblical Hebrews, it is understandable as to why the first truly large format bottle is named after him. As the story goes, Solomon, King of Judah of the south, was told by a prophet that God was going to give the majority of the Israeli tribes to Jeroboam instead of his son Rehoboam for worshiping false idols. This did not please him, so he tried to kill Jeroboam who escaped to Egypt.
When Solomon died, Rehoboam became king. Jeroboam returned from Egypt to warn him not to make the same mistakes as his father. Rehoboam did not listen and taxed his people heavily. His people responded by rebelling and leaving to follow Jeroboam, fulfilling the prophecy. Jeroboam and Rehoboam had a tangled history, leading ultimately to Jeroboam’s demise basically leaving Rehoboam as the long lived successor (Jeroboam’s son died two years after taking reign and his entire family was killed by an assassin) So it only makes sense (at least to me) that the next large format bottle in the succession was named after him. A Rehoboam bottle holds 30 glasses of wine.
Methuselah was the grandfather of Noah and is the longest living person in the bible. It is said that he had lived for almost a thousand years! With his name being synonymous with living a long life, it could have been given to this bottle because large format bottle age much slower than a normal 750ml bottle. A bottle this size, will age extremely well in bottle and being equivalent to 8 standard bottles and a whopping 40 glasses of wine it will also last throughout the evening festivities! A little non-wine fun fact: The oldest near prehistoric pine is nicknamed Methuselah and is located in the Inyo National Forest between California’s Sierra Nevada range and the Nevada border. It is thought to be nearly 5,000 years old.
A Salmanazar is equivalent to 60 glasses of wine or twelve standard bottles. It is thought that he is named after the king of Assyria who attacked Samaria (Shalmaneser). After Hoshea refused to submit In order to surround Samaria, he marched through Bit-Adini to to attack Tyre. He battled for three years until he finally won, but he passed away a short period after his victory.
I remember the first time I heard Balthazar in conversation. My mind went right to my love affair with the supernatural. One of my favorite shows, albeit a bit embarrassing, is Charmed. In the series, Julian McMahon’s character, Cole Turner is part human. His demon counterpart’s name is Belthazar. Then I saw the wine bottle in print and once again my supernatural addiction remembered the demon in the film Constantine. This one spelled correctly. But alas, this bottle was also has a religious background.
The bottle that is equivalent to 16 standard bottles or 80 pours has two theories where its name comes from. The first is that it is named after one of the Three Wise Men who delivered gifts to Jesus when he was born. The second thought is that is was named after the Babylonian king, however his name was spelled differently. In the Bible, Belshazzar was known to enjoy his wine. In fact, he was holding a feast when his city was under seige. Believing that the walls protecting his city could not be compromised, he and his guests continued to drink and enjoy the evening. Unfortunately, the walls came down, the city fell and Belshazzar was killed. Although the spelling is wrong, being named after a Babylonian king who died because he continued to drink wine, does make a lot of sense.
Of all the large format names, Nebuchadnezzar is my favorite to say. It just rolls off the tongue! 🙂 The name translates to “O god, Nabu, protect my first son.” Nabu, was the ancient Mesopotamian god of literacy and wisdom. Nebachudnezzar was the son of Nabopolassar, who rebelled against the Neo-Assyrian Empire and declared himself King of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar gained the throne in 605 BC and successfully defended his throne against Egypt and ultimately conquered Judah. He captured Israelites and took them to Babylon where he created the most impressive city. So why not make a bottle that impressively holds 20 standard bottles or 100 glasses of wine?
Melchior was not only a king, but also a Saint. He was one of the Three Wise Men, who traveled to visit Jesus after he was born to deliver the gifts and was also known as the King of Persia. Melchior was said to have given Jesus the gift of gold. Afterwards, he traveled with other Magi to the Kingdom of Armenia to celebrate Christmas. Holding 120 glasses of wine, maybe this bottle size was named after him because it was the closest to his death at the age of 116.
Solomon was the extremely wealthy king of the United Kingdom of Israel and was the son of King David. He was known for being extremely wise. The story of The Judgement of Solomon explains how wise he was. It chronicles two women who both laid claim to being the mother of the same child. Solomon resolved the dispute by demanding the child to be cut in half. Each mother receiving one half. Immediately, one woman renounced her claim. Solomon declared that this woman must be the true mother as she would rather give up the child than to see it killed and therefore entitled to the whole child. Holding 130 glasses of wine or the equivalent of 26 standard bottles, there would be no need to split this baby in half to share with anyone!
The final three seem to be less common and specifically for champagne bottles. They were created for a special occasion. Sovereign was a special bottle created by Taittinger to celebrate the launch of the largest cruise ship, Sovereign of the Seas in 1988. It holds 175 glasses which is equivalent to 35 standard bottles.
Primat translates to “first class” and is a name given to archbishops that are of a higher rank than other archbishops. (which I didn’t know there were ranks among them, who knew?) The same size is also known as a Goliath which is reminiscent of the Battle of David and Goliath. The equivalent of 6 standard bottles or 180 glasses of wine It is a huge bottle to conquer in an evening!
And finally, Melchizedek or Midas. The equivalent to 40 standard bottles. Melchizedek was the king of “righteousness.” and we all know about King Midas and his magical touch. Both of these names are equally fit to represent a bottle that you can pour an incredible 200 glasses out of. It is truly a righteous bottle that has the equivalent of 40 bottles and definitely you have the Midas Touch if you have one in your possession. Not listed in the image above is the Maximus! This bottle, of which it looks like there is only one broke the world record for largest bottle ever produced. It sold for $55,812 at Sotheby’s in New York in 2004. Purchased by Wine Ventures, in Tenafly, New Jersey, the bottle holds the equivalent of 173 standard bottles. It was made by Kavalier glassmakers in the Czech Republic.
I hope you enjoyed this trip down wine bottle lane! I am always intrigued by etymology and curious why the bottle sizes continued to be named after biblical kings. Was it just a trend that continued or is there more to it than that?
What is the larges bottle size you have ever seen? Did you get to sip a glass from it? Share you story in the comments below!