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Bottle Sizes - Their variations and names

Wine Interests

Why exactly 75 cls has been picked as the standard sized wine bottle is not entirely clear, it has simply evolved into the standard size by custom, although it's now a recognised EU quantity for the retail trade. You could argue that the old imperial bottle of one sixth of a gallon may have something to do with it, but it could also be that 75cls is just about the right amount for a meal for two.

Why exactly 75 cls has been picked as the standard sized wine bottle is not entirely clear, it has simply evolved into the standard size by custom, although it's now a recognised EU quantity for the retail trade. You could argue that the old imperial bottle of one sixth of a gallon may have something to do with it, but it could also be that 75cls is just about the right amount for a meal for two. Three glasses each, and you might still be fit to drive if you've drunk that over a couple of hours.

Despite the near universality of the 75 cl bottle, bottle sizes do vary. You may find wine bottles that contain 72 cls rather than 75 cls and even some 70 cls bottles, which always seems a little mean to me. Often expensive dessert wines come in half litre bottles, or 50 cls, but a standard half bottle will hold 37.5 cls - exactly half a standard bottle. In pubs these days you'll find quarter bottles, and if you do the maths you'll find that yes, they're half a half-bottle size, or 18.75 cls. If it's a quarter bottle of champagne, though, you should call it a snipe or a piccolo.

Bottle sizes have garnered names for themselves over the years, a double bottle of wine that holds twice 75 cls, or one and a half litres, is called a magnum, like a gun or an ice-cream. But when it comes to champagne you get the best names, all very biblical. So if you like lists, read on.

In Champagne a double magnum - the equivalent of four bottles - is called a Jeroboam, a six bottle capacity bottle is called a Rehoboam and an eight is called a Methusaleh. Although these bottles aren't common, they can be found on occasion and are often produced at weddings and other formal functions for their dramatic effect. There are larger bottles still, and these rejoice in more biblical names: a twelve bottle bottle is called a Salmanazar and it holds nine litres, or the same amount of liquid as a case of champagne. The sixteen is called a Balthazar, the twenty a Nebuchadnezzar and the giant twenty-four bottle capacity bottle is called a Melchior, these last being named after the Three Wise Men or Magi. Quite how easy it would be to pour from one of these monsters I'm not sure.

Just to complicate things, in Bordeaux they have different names for some sizes: an eight bottle bottle is called an Imperial, rather than a Methusaleh, and confusingly they call their six bottle bottle a Jeroboam, (which is four in the Champagne) and their four bottle size is simply a double magnum. The more prosaic Burgundians don't grace their bottle sizes with names at all.

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