When looking at a bottle of wine one may begin to wonder “where did this particular size come from?” or “why is this bottle shaped one way and another differently?” These are all great questions and we are about to dive into the answers here.
Why Glass? Often viewed as a newer development, glass has literally been around for ages. Some of the first finds of glass were found in the Northern Middle East. Natural deposits of obsidian (dark bluish purple glass) were found embedded within rock, where the movement of the earth pressurized sand. Glasswork was showcased in ancient Asia closer to 1700 BC. The ancient Greeks and Romans were particularly well known for their glasswork, which was used both domestically and industrially. They developed techniques of glassblowing, which were used to make bottles for perfume and liquid, particularly wine.
The type of glass that was being produced during the Grecian and Roman era was brittle and delicate and not ideal for traveling purposes. Clay pots were created for this very reason, and were called ‘amphorae’. This word ‘Amphora’ in Greek means ‘to bare handles on both sides’ which was exactly what this vessel was, an elongated pot built to carry wine and lifted by two handles for ease of travel. For feasts and special occasions, people would often use their hand blown glass as a stationary decorative table vessel filled with wine.
Not until the invention of the coal-burning kilns and stoves did the ability to make heavier more durable glass come into play. With this new style of furnace, hotter temperatures helped create darker, thicker glass where previous techniques would have been impossible to manufacture. Closures of the bottles were often tree resin or wax to seal the wine, until the cork became the norm. At this point wine became easier to transport and had to be placed carefully in a large bed of straw in crates specifically made to allow for the bottles to stand upright during transportation.
Standard Size Bottles No popular standard existed for bottle size, That would allow for creative designs of shapes, colors, and fill sizes. For the most part the bottom of the wine bottle was largely flat and the ‘belly’ of the bottle was wider than the bottom, making tilting of the bottle difficult. These bottles were usually stamped with an insignia marking a house the family wine came from.
By the 1700’s, importance of different winemakers, grape varieties, and vineyards became recognized in quality and aging wines. Wine storage was invented to hold wine bottles on their side or slightly on an angle to keep the corks moist. This created a tighter seal between the neck of the bottle, and cork for pressurization and limited oxygenation. As aged wines increased in popularity, so did the finding of sediment in the bottle while pouring the wine. For this reason, bottle shape evolved again. Pot Belly bottles holding between 500 milliliters to 1 full liter of wine, began to take on a more slender shape, as well as the creation of what was called the ‘punt’ at on the bottom of the bottle. The punt would dispel and redirect the sediment from gaining turbidity within the wine when pouring it.
In 1821, a company called Rickets of Bristol created a machine that could manufacture identically sized bottles, in shapes that are familiar today. In 1979, the United States of America set the standard size for a glass wine bottles at 750ml for importing purposes. Although some countries produce this as their standard bottle, there are still those that allow for bottles to be produced in various sizes.
Other Sizes of Wine Bottles There are various formats of bottles depending on the fill size and demand. Some are better than others for storing as liquid to oxygen ratio is decreased with larger sizes. Also something to note is that the names of these sizes of bottles are often named after biblical Patriarchs, Kings, Rulers and Demi-gods.
187.5 ml - Piccolo or Split: Typically used for a single serving of Champagne.
375 ml - Demi or Half: Holds one-half of the standard 750 ml size.
750 ml - Standard: Common bottle size for most distributed wine.
1.5 L - Magnum: Equivalent to two standard 750 ml bottles.
3.0 L - Double Magnum: Equivalent to two Magnums or four standard 750 ml bottles.
4.5 L - Jeroboam or Rehoboam: Equivalent to six standard 750 ml bottles.
6.0 L - Imperial: Equivalent to eight standard 750 ml bottles or two Double Magnums.
9.0 L - Salmanazar: Equivalent to twelve standard 750 ml bottles or a full case of wine!
12.0 L - Balthazar: Equivalent to sixteen standard 750 ml bottles or two Imperials.
15.0 L - Nebuchadnezzar: Equivalent to twenty standard 750 ml bottles.
18.0 L - Melchior or Solomon: Equivalent to twenty four standard 750 ml bottles.
27.0 L -Primat or Goliath: Equivalent to twenty seven standard 750 ml bottles.
30.0 L - Melchizedek or Midas: Equivalent to forty standard 750 ml bottles.
Does Size Matter? When looking at the size of a bottle, there are reasons for opening one over the other. The main reason for larger bottles is predominantly aging and larger guest sizes for events or occasions. When serving the wine, most of the larger sized bottles can be poured without the help of an individual or cradle, however, once we get to the larger 15L bottles and up assistance may be needed.
Wine pumps are often made for larger size bottles as the mouths of each bottle are larger than the standard magnum (1.5L) and make it easier for consumption.
All in all, size does matter if you are looking at hosting a large party or cellaring the wine for a special occasion.