It’s not only wine bottle sizes that vary. Over the years wine has come to the consumer in all sorts of containers: amphoras, casks, bottles, bags-in-boxes and now cans, but since the second half of the seventeenth century, when the production of glass bottles was greatly improved, they have been the vessel of preference.
Originally, these bottles were hand-blown and there were often complaints that fraudulent wine merchants were deliberately having them made undersize, but, over the years, these have appeared in a broad variety of standard sizes.
I would divide these into four groups: the deficient, the everyday, the aspirational and the fantasist.
I call these deficient, because they offer smaller quantities of wine than a reasonably minded person would like to drink.
187 mls – The quarter-bottle, split, piccolo or, in Ireland, snipe. This is most commonly seen on airlines, though it also can appear in self-service restaurants. It is an awkward size in that it gives a little more than an ordinary glass of wine.
For some reason, in the early days of the Common Market it was not a size approved for off-sales. In my early days in the wine-trade, there was a hairdresser in Leeds who used to buy Champagne in quarter-bottles as a shampoo.
250 mls – The quarter-litre. A common size in French self-service restaurants.
375 mls – The half-bottle. Popular with those who feel that they should limit their wine-consumption at lunchtime. It is also used widely for dessert wines and, in bars in Andalucía it is the regular size that is served for chilled finos and manzanillas. Unfortunately, it is not ideal for the ageing of fine wines.
500 mls – The half-litre
562 mls – The imperial pint. Formerly used for Champagne. Reputedly the preferred size for Winston Churchill when he wanted a rapid restorative.
620 mls – The clavelin. This rare bottle is solely used for the vins jaunes of the Jura vineyards. Reputedly, the fact that it is 130mls. short of a standard size bottle, represents the amount that was lost by evaporation during the wines long ageing in cask.
750 mls – The standard bottle.
1 litre – The returnable six star litre was for long the bottle used in France for vin de table. Now it is more rarely seen.
1.5 litres. – The magnum. For long, I have suggested that this is the ideal bottle for the two of us to have with supper. My wife will drink a glass and I will drink the rest. Unfortunately she has cottoned on to this and now has more than one glass. This is the ideal size bottle for the ageing of fine wine.
3 litres – The double magnum or Jeroboam. (Many of the larger size bottles take their names from biblical kings. There is no apparent reason for this.)
Whilst I have included this bottle in the ‘everyday’ category, it probably best deserves to appear at a large family party, so missed during the current lockdown. They seem to be particularly popular in Spain and Italy.
These may appear at major banquets, or on the tables of Russian oligarchs.
4.5 litres – The Rehoboam, confusingly known as a Jeroboam in Bordeaux.
6 litres – The Methuselah, called an Imperial in Bordeaux.
I have doubts as to whether some of these bottles have ever appeared and, if they have, they have been specially made. Pouring from them probably would demand a special mechanical device.
9 litres –The Salmanazar. The equivalent of a twelve bottle case of wine.
12 litres – The Balthasar.
15 litres – The Nebuchadnezzar. This is the largest bottle that I have ever heard poured… but we go further.
18 litres – The Melchior
20 litres – The Solomon.
26 litres – The Sovereign. This was apparently created for the launching of a liner by Taittinger Champagne.
27 litres – The Goliath
30 litres – The Melchizedek
Take a look at our wine
Now you know more about wine bottle sizes, why not take a look at our collection of wine?
Available in the standard 750ml size, we offer plenty of wines to choose from.
We also sell wine in cases if you’re looking for a larger quantity, similar to that of The Salmanazar!
This blog was written by Christopher Fielden, Former Chairman of the Circle of Wine Writers.