Most of the time, when we think of a bottle of wine, we picture a classic 0.75L bottle. Indeed, this is the most common bottle size, and the most commercialized. The magnum may also come to mind, for its festive and prestigious aspect. However, there is a multitude of wine bottle formats, differentiated by their shape or their capacity. And these different shapes exist for very particular reasons. Let’s discover together these specificities, and let’s find out the secrets and differences of all these wine bottle shapes.
The different sizes of wine bottles and their origins
Standardization of the 0.75L bottle
Indeed, why are the standard bottles of wine 75 cl and not 1 liter, as logic would suggest?
This specificity comes from a standardization of the wine bottle, dating from 1866. It was made to facilitate the commercial exchanges between the French and the English. The English were, at the time, the main customers and consumers of French wine. In this country, the imperial gallon was used as a unit of measurement (1 gallon corresponding to approximately 4.5 liters). This standardization to 75cl allowed for easy conversions and transfers. One imperial gallon being equal to 6 bottles of wine of 75 cl. It is also for this reason that the bottles are, in almost all cases, stored by 6 or 12. The English used to transport wine in 50 gallon barrels, which corresponded to 225 liters of wine, or 300 bottles of 75cl.
The different sizes of wine bottles by capacity
- Piccola: 0.20 liters (or 1 glass of wine)
- Pint or quart: 0,25 liters (1/4 bottle)
- Fillette: 0,375 liters (or 1/2 bottle)
- Medium or Jennie: 0.5 liters (or 2/3 bottle)
- Bottle: 0,75 liters (1 bottle standard)
- Magnum: 1,5 liters (2 bottles)
- Jeroboam: 3 liters (4 bottles)
- Rehoboam: 4,5 liters (6 bottles)
- Methuselah: 6 liters (8 bottles)
- Salmanazar: 9 liters (12 bottles)
- Balthazar: 12 liters (16 bottles)
- Nebuchadnezzar: 15 liters (20 bottles)
- Melchior or Solomon: 18 liters (24 bottles)
- Sovereign: 26,25 liters (35 bottles)
- Primate: 27 liters (36 bottles)
- Midas or Melchisedec: 30 liters (40 bottles)
The Bordeaux vineyard has its subtleties and differences in terms of capacity and names of bottles:
- Marie-Jeanne: 2,5 liters
- Double Magnum: 3 liters
- Jeroboam: 4,5 liters
- Imperial: 6 liters
Why these names?
The names of these wine bottle sizes come for the most part from the names of biblical characters who lived very old. The origin of the choice of these names remains rather mysterious, and no real explanation is known to this day.
Very large formats are quite rare in the trade. It is often necessary to go directly to the winegrower to get them. Indeed, the production cost of large format (empty) bottles being quite high, they are not standardized. It is often the winegrowers who get some custom-made bottles, according to the demand.
The different sizes of wine bottles by shape
Beyond the differences in terms of capacity, there are also different formats of bottles, by their shapes and their appearances.
In France there are 8 different main types:
- The Bordelaise
- The Burgundian
- La Provençale (with a wider base)
- The Champenoise
- The clavelin, for the yellow wines of the Jura (the only one of this list not to contain 75cl but 62cl).
- La Ligérienne (Muscadet or Anjou for example)
- The Rhodanian
- The Flute of Alsace
Other specific formats exist abroad, such as the format of the Porto bottle, or some Georgian orange wines.
In addition to the various glass formats, wine can also be sold in other containers, such as the well-known bag-in-box (cubi).
New formats have recently appeared as well, such as cardboard packs or aluminum cans. But the quality of conservation of these last formats is limited. They were also created for practicality or marketing purposes.
The advantages and differences of the formats
The size of the bottle has an impact on the conservation of the wine. Indeed, the higher the capacity of the bottle, the longer the life of the wine. This is why, for the same wine, when bottled in a classic bottle and in a magnum, the magnum wine will probably age better and be of better quality.
There are two main reasons for this better conservation:
- Thermal inertia
A too violent change of temperature accentuates the bad ageing of a wine. Having a larger quantity of wine will stabilize the temperature. The aging process will be slower and therefore smoother. Moreover, the large bottles are made of a thicker glass, which also favors this stabilization of the wine’s temperature.
- Gas exchanges
In a bottle, an exchange of air takes place via the cork of the stopper. Moreover, an oxygenation too important causes an accelerated ageing of the wine. And the role of the cork is to regulate this exchange. The size of the neck of a 75cl bottle and a magnum are the same, so the same exchanges take place. Simply, the quantity of wine being superior in a magnum, the ageing will be done more slowly, and thus more qualitatively.
This is why you should be careful not to consume a magnum (or larger versions) too young, as its larger size also requires longer storage. Unless you use the Aveine aerator that fits the neck of the magnum, and that allows to aerate the wine precisely and instantly.
There is also a difference between the colors of the glass used for the different bottle sizes. The choice of the color will protect the wine from the light, and thus prevent its oxidation. This is why most of the time red wines are bottled in green (or dark) glass, which fulfills this protective role.
White and rosé wines have less need for this, so clear glass bottles are used to show the real color of the wine.
The largest bottle of wine ever designed was the one made by a Chinese company (Wang Chen Wines). The bottle was 1,850 liters, with a size of 4.5 meters. This record was set in 2011.
Other honorable mentions exist, such as a bottle of Austrian sweet wine of 480 liters, and a size of 2.4 meters made in 2007 by a restaurant in the country.