Standard wine bottles hold 750 milliliters, or approximately 25 ounces. It is said this became the norm because this was, more or less, the lung capacity of early glassblowers.
If feeling particularly magnanimous, however, consider a large-format bottle, such as a magnum of Champagne or Napa cabernet. A magnum, or mag, is equivalent to two standard bottles.
There is also a double magnum, holding the equivalent of four standard bottles – although in Champagne, the double mag is known as a Jeroboam. In Bordeaux, a Jeroboam holds six standard bottles. Confused yet?
A bottle holding eight standard bottles is called an Impériale in Bordeaux and a Methuselah in Champagne.
In Champagne, there are three bottle sizes beyond the Methuselah: The Salmanazar holds 12 standard bottles, the Balthazar holds 16 bottles and the Nebuchadnezzar holds 20 bottles. Don’t even think about asking how one uncorks such a bottle.
No one knows exactly why biblical names were chosen for larger format bottles. They were first used in France during the 18th century, when the name Jeroboam was given to bottles holding four standard bottles. One theory holds that the names of ancient kings of Israel were used to designate large format bottles because these men were said to be of great worth.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the split, half the size of a standard bottle, sometimes referred to as a pony. (If requesting a pony for Christmas, be sure to specify wine rather than equine.)
Both large and small format bottles have their appeal as last-minute wine gifts. Big format bottles always make a statement, garnering attention and creating excitement in any room.
Small format bottles are also treasured because they often hold expensive elixirs like Port, Ice Wine or pricey French Sauternes.
A check of local wine stores revealed no Nebuchadnezzars, but local wine stores can procure magnums from top producers by special order.
For bottles larger than a magnum, consider ordering from an online source like Wine Exchange, where I found two red Bordeaux in double magnum (four-bottle) sizes: Pavie Macquin 2006 for $270, and Pontet Canet 2006 for $400.
While small bottles do not make the statement of large bottles, their content can be absolutely stunning and memorable. Try these locally available small jewels:
W & J Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Porto. Performs like a more expensive Vintage Port. Rich, opulent and sweet. Tyson offers gift packaging with the option of adding two Schotts Zwiesel Port glasses. $16 at Tyson Fine Wines and Things in Golden Springs.
King Estate 2007 Vin Glacé. From Oregon, vin glacé is not a true ice wine, because grapes are machine-frozen rather than allowing Mother Nature to do the job. Concentrated juice separated from ice crystals and grape skins results in this intensely flavored wine. In the $18 range at both Tyson and the Wine Cellar on Quintard.
Nachtgold Eiswein 2009. True ice wine made from grapes left to naturally freeze on the vine. Golden color with good balance of sweetness to acid. $19.99 at the Wine Cellar.
Naughty Sticky 2007. From a blend of sauvignon blanc and semillion, the same varietal mix often found in expensive Sauternes from France. Sprightly and deliciously sweet. $29.75 at Tyson.
Or try the real thing, Chateau Roumieu-La Coste 2009. From Bordeaux’s Barsac commune, sitting right next to the more pricey Sauternes commune. $24.50 at Tyson.
Santo Vino Villa Puccini. Love the way the name flows off the tongue. Powerful sweet Italian wine of the saints. Made from white grapes left drying on racks in airy barns for up to six years. Imagine juice pressed from golden raisins fermented into an unctuous wine. $16.75 at Tyson.