Go large or go home

Whoever said ‘Good things come in small packages’ obviously hasn’t tasting wine poured from a magnum.

I mean, come on? Who doesn’t love the theatre and tiniest element of showing off that comes with large format wine bottles.

There is something quite decadent about a big bottle sat on the table when there’s a gang of you together for a nice lunch or dinner.

Not only does it look rather marvelous, but if you are into collecting wine to keep in your ‘cellar’, then the large format is the way to go.

Keeping wine in magnums (150cl) slows the rate of oxidation due to the larger volume-to-surface area ratio in magnums which reduces the oxygen-to-wine ratio, resulting in a slower oxidation rate and therefore a retardation of the aging process.

And now the science bit.

Oxygen – a necessity for life for you and me, but also for your precious wine.

The exposure of the grape juice to oxygen during winemaking can make or break the wine and is a key component of its style. Once the juice is in the bottle, the glass is inert and the oxygen exposure is halted until you open it up to pour a glass – well, almost.

A natural cork, as you probably know, isn’t completely air proof and its porous nature allows a small amount of oxygen to travel through the cork and is a key to ageing wine.

The oxygen that enters the wine, interacts with chemical compounds called phenolics in the liquid – tannins and many flavour compounds included.

The slow oxygenation during ageing will reduce the wine’s astringency, integrate the flavours of the wood, soften the tannins and release all new flavour compounds.

The majority of white wines do not benefit from ageing in the same way as red though there are numerous exceptions – namely some posh white Bordeaux, white Burgundy and Chateau Musar white, to name but a few.

The same applies for Champagne in magnum too, giving non-vintage fizz the ability to age for a few years longer, giving the wines a richness not necessarily evident before.

Some may find this big old bottle a little intimidating. Sometimes they can be a bit unwieldy when trying to pour into your glasses. So my advice is get your hands on a decanter and pour directly into that, serving two purposes.

Firstly, your wine gets a good old breathe and also, it’s much easier to pour for your guests.

Just keep topping the decanter up and pop your ‘big’ bottle next to it and you have a great focal point at the end of the table.

For the festive period we have positioned a fine selection of ‘large bottles’ near the front of the shop, as the tantalizing array of big bottles stare down at you from the shelf asking to be taken home.

They include several magnums of Champagne, including some grand marques and some stunning ‘growers’ Champagne – always a great way to start the festive celebrations.

We have a great deal on Marques de Caceres Crianza 3 litre jeroboams (on offer at £49.99 in the shop at Fine Wines Direct UK, 242, Penarth Road), and a dazzling array of wines from the iconic Familia Pesquera, including the vaunted Millenium series, and a few of the outstanding 2009 vintage or Reserva wines in three litre, and even a gigantic, and rare, five litre Pesquera 2009 Reserva – perfect if you have the extended family descending upon you or if you have a very large glass to fill

Pop in soak in a bit of Christmas atmosphere and grab a big ‘un!


Neil Cammies

Former columnist for the Western Mail and is now working for Fine Wines Direct UK. Hosting tastings, building client relationships, and writing about his experiences in the wine trade.

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