On a recent trip to California, significant other and I had our photograph taken holding a jeroboam of Silver Oak. “Jeroboam” is the name for a bottle more often referred to as a “double magnum,” holding the equivalent of four standard-size bottles.
Alas, the bottle was a light-weight dummy. Not only did those being photographed have a choice of bottles to hold, but the gift shop was doing a brisk business selling these large, fake bottles to those wanting to decorate their cellars or impress unsuspecting wine snobs.
Giant bottles are definitely attention getters — and the real giants are rare. The largest format real bottle I have encountered is a “balthazar” that held an equivalent of 16 standard bottles of Staglin Family cabernet.
A fortunate bidder snagged this behemoth for a mere $90,000 at this year’s Auction Napa Valley. The bottle was stored in Staglin’s private cellar awaiting transport. Transportation arrangements for such a bottle could be fodder for an episode of A&E’s “Shipping Wars,” the immensely educational and entertaining television program where “each episode dives into the cutthroat world of heavy duty movers as they battle for the chance to transport the unshippable.”
The most prevalent large-format bottle is the “magnum,” the equivalent of two standard bottles. Most top wineries produce limited quantities of these bottles from each vintage.
Dan Berger, in an October Press Democrat article, describes these large bottles as chambers of horror. He brings up sobering points like how and where these large bottles are to be stored. Like standard bottles, large bottles need to be stored on their sides. Few have shelving to accommodate such bottles.
Further, Berger touches on the complications involved should someone actually decide to consume the giant bottle. From a personal standpoint, I find it challenging to pour from a standard 750 ml bottle.
Significant other struggled with a jeroboam of Chilean wine won by friends at a wine tasting a few years back. First came the difficulty of cork removal. Large format bottles generally have larger corks unsuited for current cork-removal technology. Once the cork is extricated, how does one heft the weighty bottle for pouring? Even decanting such bottles into multiple decanters cries for the rental of a crane.
Large bottles are prized by the rich and famous at charity events. The average wine consumer is not likely to come into contact with any of these bottles. If ever encountering one, be aware they carry hard-to-pronounce names of biblical kings and patriarchs. No one knows for certain why this came to be.
The earliest recorded use of a biblical name for a large-format bottle comes from Bordeaux, where in the early 18th century winemakers called a large bottle holding four standard size bottles a jeroboam, for the first king of Israel. Jeroboam is described in the Bible as a man of great worth. Hence a large bottle of Bordeaux would be of great worth, but this premise is scholarly speculation.
Following the jeroboam is the rehoboam, the equivalent of six bottles; methuselah, the equivalent of eight bottles; mordechai and salmanazar are 12 bottles; balthazar is 16 bottles and nebuchadnezzar is 20 bottles.
The largest format bottle, holding the equivalent of 40 bottles, is the melchizedek, named for the biblical high priest of Israel.
If UPS appears at your door with a melchizedek, you should: a) Tell them you are not into exotic pets, b) order a crane and invite 80 of your closest friends, or c) tell them the addressee no longer resides at the residence.
(The correct answer is c.)
Contact Pat Kettles at email@example.com.