Does size really matter?

The 75cl bottle really has become the ubiquitous size on wine lists and in shops around the world, and indeed was officialised throughout Europe in 1970 as the standard size for a bottle of wine. But how did we get to this? Some say that it is connected to the literal lung capacity of the glass blowers making these first bottles, whilst others argue that the 75cl bottle held enough wine for the average person to consume over supper. Maybe we will never really know the truth, but what we can tell you for sure, is that in a standard bottle of wine you can pour four to six glasses of wine, depending on how generous you’re feeling. With this in mind, we are always bemused at the reaction of people when we suggest a larger bottle. Protests of not wanting to go totally mad and lose themselves in the revelry permeate throughout the group. We try, in earnest, to explain that a single bottle simply won’t suffice more than two people and that another will thus have to be cracked in quick succession. Of course, we are always right.

But where does all this big bottle fear come from? Perhaps it's the fact that you need two hands to handle such large vessels or perhaps it's the array of terribly complicated old-testament style names that have us running for the hills out of fear of embarrassment? Whatever it is, as lovers of the raucous dinner party and the importance of being known as a bounteous host, it is important that we all become au fait with the array of options out there.

Before we go up, we must go down; the half bottle. This little chap is a trusted companion on any journey as pours a generous two glasses and can be neatly popped into your Barbour pocket, Mulberry handbag or 4x4 cup holder. It is also the perfect size for the non-committal who want to explore and experiment. Now, following the standard bottle is the trusted magnum. The most recognisable of the big bottles. A delightful two bottles in one. It is big, but still fits snugly in one’s fridge, cupboard or cellar. It is also the most loved amongst winemakers and wine nerds as the perfect friendly companion to any occasion. Next is the Jéroboam, 300cl of winely heaven and the first to be named after an Israeli King.

Following in the bottle hierarchy is the Methuselah.This offers a considerable 600cl (or a reasonable 48 glasses). Methuselah’s claim to fame was as Noah’s grandfather. As we continue to creep up in grandeur, we wanted to make a caveat that you’d be lucky to ever see a bottle in these coming sizes, as the bottles themselves are made to order and bottled on request from the winery. When speaking of Balthazer, you may well be talking of one of the three wise men or indeed, of a bottle of 96 glasses (or 1200cl) of fermented grape juice. Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, really brings home the bacon at 1500cl and a hefty offering of 120 glasses of wine. Last but not least is Melchizedek who is of course another of the Biblical Kings and the purveyor of the most outrageously sized bottle, which yields 3000cl - or in our language, 240 delicious glasses.

Now, a hefty bottle is more than just a generous addition to any supper, but it is also better for the wine nestled inside of it. With the advent of the cork closure in the 1700s, the concept of bottle ageing came into being. Your fine Burgundy, Claret or Champagne has the opportunity to develop and age more harmoniously as there is more wine and less wine-to-air ratio (known as ‘ullage’). So really, to answer our own question, size does matter. At least for wine bottles anyway.