(Size)mic Proportions

Many things in life come in different sizes: vehicles, houses, french fry servings, people.  But since this is a wine blog, you know where this is headed.  Wine bottles!  My wife and I were nearing the last of one our favorite wines at dinner recently and lamenting there wasn’t more remaining. Our discussion turned to all the wacky names and uses for each size as well as which one is the perfect size bottle. We’re all familiar with the standard three sizes out there (halves, regular 750s, magnums) and they all have their uses, but there are actually many more one never sees in your local wine shop. So, here’s a brief primer:

187s – The true “split”; these are half of a half or a quarter of a regular 750. Often seen on wedding reception tables or in those cute little four packs, they’re equal to about one glass of wine.

375s – The most common little bottle out there. They serve about a glass and a quarter per person and are great for one person if your companion is taking the night off or if each of you are ordering food in a restaurant that calls for a different wine.

750ml – The most common size, these serve about two and a half glasses per person and are usually more than enough to get the party started.

1.5L – AKA magnums, they are equal to two 750s. These are great for dinner parties or if you’re looking for a better price on your favorite value wine. They aren’t always cheaper than two bottles of the same wine, however, as the cost of the larger bottle and different labels often forces wineries to charge a bit more. Experts also believe this is the perfect size for ageing wine as the proportion of oxygen in the neck to the amount of wine in the bottle allows for a slow, mellow ride into middle age. And ever seen one of those German Riesling bottles in a magnum? With their slender, tall, lean shapes, soft shoulders, and standing about two and half feet tall, they’re the closest thing in the wine world to sexy.

3L – A double-magnum or Jerobaum. Here is where things begin to reach Biblical proportions. From this size and bigger each bottle is named after a Bibilical king or historical figure. I guess being royalty you could afford to throw big parties, so you needed a lot of wine to keep your guests happy. At about three feet high, it’s also probably the biggest size one can pour comfortably.  And if it’s white, how are you going to chill anything bigger? After selling a Jerobaum of Roederer Brut Premier Champgagne one New England winter and asked how to get it cold for a party, I suggested stick it in a snow bank for a couple of hours. A bit unwieldy, yes, but want to be a hit at your next dinner party? Pop for a double-mag. They’re actually not super-expensive and are way cool.  (ps. just don’t bring the Franzia!)

Then things get way over the top:
6L – Methuselah
9L – Mordechai
12L – Balthazar
15L – Nebuchadnezzar

So, returning to the original question of what’s the perfect size, none of these crazy bottles fit the bill. To figure it out, let’s look at a typical evening’s dinner for two at home. You need at least a glass each while preparing dinner. Then one or two with dinner as well as one last sip to seal the meal.  A 375? Forget it, not even close. The tried and, supposedly, true 750? Close, but not quite.  There’s not enough left to wash down that last morsel of braised short ribs or shrimp scampi. The magnum? For two people, probably too much. Where does that leave us? To be honest, a rarity on your local wine shelf. A clue? The Austrians pegged it…Give up? It’s the one liter. There aren’t many out there. The only ones I’ve seen have been Gruner Veltliners and its companion red, Zweigelt, a tasty, juicy, and spicy red from Austria.

So there you have it folks. Everything you wanted to know about wine bottle sizes, but were afraid, or maybe too indifferent, to ask. Don’t worry, next time we’ll tackle another topic better suited to keep you on the edge of your wine bar stool. Wine closures!

Until then, cheers!






Erskine Gallant, Wine Manager, Paradise Foods

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