In today’s marketplace, wine bottles come in a wide variety of sizes for differing occasions, but it’s not always apparent how and why these vessels got their names. This guide breaks down the different wine bottle sizes and their names to demystify the terminology and make you a more savvy wine patron.
Piccolo is the Italian word for “small,” which is the perfect name for the charming wine bottle size. This small vessel contains one-fourth of the volume of a standard-size wine bottle. Also known as a Quarter Bottle or Pony, this wine bottle size is typically used for single servings of Champagne and other sparkling wines.
Demi is the French word for “half,” these wine bottles get their name because their size contains exactly half of the volume of a standard bottle of wine. It's also known as a Split because this vessel contains approximately two glasses of wine.
The basic unit of measurement in the world of wine, a Standard bottle contains 750ml or about 25oz and will yield four to five glasses of wine. Standard bottles have two main shapes: Bordeaux bottles with straight sides and tall shoulders, and Burgundy bottles with gently sloping shoulders and wide bases. These terms refer to the two most important wine regions in France and the grapes they made famous. The so-called Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc traditionally come in the former shape, while the grapes of Burgundy such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are typically bottled in the latter shape.
Magnum bottles contain the equivalent of two standard bottles of wine. Large format bottles such as Magnums are preferred by connoisseurs for their superior age-ability, mostly due to the reduced surface area of wine in the bottle with respect to the oxygen that slowly seeps in via pores in the cork closure (too much oxygen will spoil wine and turn it to vinegar, while a small amount over time will help it mature and develop additional complexity). Magnums are typically more expensive than two standard bottles of the same wine, owing to the fact that wineries have to retool their production lines in order to accommodate the larger bottles. These wine bottles get their name because of their massive size. They contain about ten full glasses of wine and certainly make a big impression at large gatherings.
Double Magnum (3L)
As the name implies, a Double Magnum contains the equivalent of two Magnums or four Standard bottles. In the Champagne region of France, this wine bottle size also goes by the name Jeroboam.
Larger Format Bottles
Sizes greater than a Double Magnum are infrequently encountered, and each takes its name from a Biblical king. This may strike the modern consumer as arbitrary, and to be sure, no one knows exactly how or why these different names were chosen. In any case, the list is as follows: the Methuselah (6L or 8 bottles), the Salamanzar (9L or 12 bottles), the Balthazar (12L or 16 bottles), the Nebuchadnezzar (15L or 20 bottles), and the Solomon or Melchior (18L or 24 bottles).
Other Wine Vessels
While wine glass bottles of varying sizes are certainly the most common choice, modern winemakers have a wide range of packaging options at their disposal. Boxed wine is a wine that has been packed in a plastic bladder within a corrugated fiberboard box and is dispensed via a spigot. Commonly associated with cheaper brands like Franzia, there have been advances in the quality of boxed wine in recent years that can offer excellent value. In addition, wine served “on tap” from a keg is becoming a more popular option in wine bars and restaurants.
Wine Bottle Closures
Closure refers to a stopper that is used to seal a bottle and prevent harmful contact between the wine and outside oxygen. The most common example is natural cork, a material harvested from the bark of the oak species Quercus suber. Cork easily compresses into the neck of the bottle and expands, creating a tight seal while still allowing a tiny amount of air to pass through its pores which helps mature the wine. That said, natural cork is also susceptible to bacterial infection, which can give the wine off-flavors of mold and wet cardboard (this is what we mean when we say a bottle is “corked”).
As a solution to this, researchers developed the Stelvin or aluminum screw cap closure, which creates a tighter seal than natural cork. It’s a common misconception that a metal screw cap indicates a cheaper bottle of wine. Still, many high-quality producers have adopted this technology to protect their wine better and make less of an environmental impact. Other common examples of closures include synthetic plastic corks and glass closures.
Now that we’ve explored the different sizes of wine bottles in the world, it will be easier to select the right size for your needs, and you can also impress your friends with your newfound knowledge over a glass or two.