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Wine Bottle Sizes

Whereas it isn't really necessary to have any knowledge of wine bottles in order to appreciate wine, the bottles are vitally important. A glass bottle, sealed with a cork or other device, is undoubtedly preferable for the storage and transport of wine than the alternatives, which once included wooden barrels, amphorae or even animal skins. Glass is inert, and together with the cork seal (putting aside the problem of cork taint just for one moment) it provides an excellent environment for the long aging that some wines demand. The colouring of the glass also aids, in a small way, in the protection of the wine from potentially damaging light, although of course there's no substitute for storing your wine in a cool, dark cellar.

Wine bottle sizes

As well as the traditional (in many cases, legally required) 750ml bottle (represented by Château Gloria, above right), the useful half-bottle (containing 375ml of wine, a common format for sweet wines, such as Château Coutet, above left), and the perhaps familiar magnum (containing 1.5 litres, as with the Pichon-Lalande, above centre), there are a number of even grander 'large format' bottles. Many of these are named after biblical kings (I've never found out why that is). Most confusingly, however, the same name may be used to refer to different size bottles in different regions of France. Here are the large format bottlings commonly referred to.

Bottle
equivalent

Bordeaux Wine
Bottle Sizes

Burgundy & Champagne
Bottle Sizes

Two (1.5L)

Magnum

Magnum

Three (2.25L)

Marie-Jeanne

-

Four (3.0L)

Double magnum

Jéroboam

Six(4.5L)

Jéroboam

Réhoboam

Eight (6.0L)

Impériale

Methusaleh

Twelve (9.0L)

-

Salmanazar

Sixteen (12.0L)

-

Balthazar

Twenty (15.0L)

-

Nebuchadnezzar

Twenty-four (18.0L)

-

Melchior

Other regions of France, Europe, and the New World also bottle some wine in large formats, particularly magnums. For larger bottlings, most tend to follow the Burgundy terminology, and consequently some Jéroboams (four bottles) may be found. The Bordeaux terminology seems quite restricted to that region alone. Large format bottles are popular with Bordeaux collectors, particularly the eight-bottle Impériale. This is because the small amount of air in the bottle (between the cork and the wine) and the large amount of wine results in a smaller air to wine ratio, and this would seem to favour slow development of the wine when compared with smaller formats. The same cannot be said of large format bottles of Champagne, as these are really only for show, and in general, other than the commonly encountered magnums, they are filled using wine poured from single 750ml bottles prior to sale.

There are a few other bottle sizes permitted, although none have individual names, unlike the formats above. The only other commonly encountered sizes are the 500ml bottle, most commonly encountered with Ports intended for drinking young and other sweet wines such as Tokay, the famous sweet wine of Hungary, and the 620ml bottle still in use for Vin Jaune, from the Jura region of France. (Updated 26/11/11)