Do you own lots of Pinot Noir wine bottles? If you own Pinot Noir, then you know what a pain in the wine rack it is to store. Why? Because standard wine racks are not designed for extra-wide wine bottles. But, the right Pinot Noir can be an excellent addition to your wine cellar, along with other age-worthy wines that come in attractive but problematic wine bottle sizes.
Bordeaux Wine Bottles (Standard Wine Bottles)
These high-shouldered bottles with straight sides represent the world’s most common wine bottle size. Not only do authentic Bordeaux wines from France have a similar appearance and dimensions, but New World wines based on Bordeaux grape varieties do as well. For example, red wines based on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot usually come in dark green Bordeaux bottles. White wines based on Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and dessert wines like Sauternes come in clear or light-green Bordeaux bottles.
However, to make things more confusing, Italian wines like Chianti or Californian wines like Zinfandel may also use this wine bottle size. But, what’s good about these wine bottles is they’re easy to store in a wine rack. Since you don’t need to use bulk storage you can maximize storage capacity which can be critical if you have a small storage space like a wine refrigerator or cabinet.
Burgundy Wine Bottles (Wide Wine Bottles)
Burgundy wine bottles are elegant, slope-shouldered, dark-green bottles, with a wide body. Traditional Burgundy grape varieties are Pinot Noir (red) and Chardonnay (white). New World producers of these grape varieties also use this bottle type. To make things more confusing, other French wine-producing regions use a similar bottle like the Loire Valley and the Rhone (grape variety – Syrah). However, the Rhone bottle is not quite as wide and the slope is more severe than it is for a Burgundy bottle.
In general, Bordeaux bottles are 3 inches in diameter, while Burgundy bottles are 3.5. Since most wine racks are designed for
Bordeaux wine bottle sizes, Burgundy wine bottles can cause a lot of storage problems.
Now you can forego individual racking for bulk storage in a diamond rack, which can be inconvenient when looking for a particular bottle. Or, you can use a magnum rack that’s designed to individually store large-format bottles (see below).
If however you own a wine refrigerator or cabinet, some large slots may have been included (probably not enough). If you plan on buying one in the future, universal racking might be a good idea, but it can seriously reduce your storage capacity.
Champagne Bottles (Heavy and Wide Wine Bottles)
Champagne wine bottles are very similar in appearance to Burgundy bottles. Like Burgundy bottles they are also 3.5 inches in diameter, but they are much thicker and heavier bottles with very deep punts (indentation in the bottom of the bottle). These bottles are designed to withstand 90 pounds per square inch of pressure, which is three times the pressure in a typical car tire.
Champagne wine bottles have storage problems very similar to Burgundy bottles and the solutions are basically the same except their extra weight may cause cheap wire racks to bend and because the bottles are also under pressure, you should probably stay away from bulk storage like diamond racks and stick with magnum racks.
German Wine Bottles (Tall Wine Bottles or Flutes)
Riesling wine bottles are elegant, tall, slim bottles with long necks. Traditionally, if it’s a wine from the Mosel, the bottle is green and if it’s from the Rhine it’s brown. The Alsatian wines of north-eastern France usually go in the Mosel bottle. In the New World, this bottle size represents sweet wine of any type, but when the wine’s from Germany, it may or may not be sweet, so you need to read the label.
The main problem with Riesling bottles is their height. If you use double-deep wine racks (i.e. one rack in front of another), you cannot stack them end to end (you probably can’t stack it with a standard-sized bottle either). This is especially problematic in wine refrigerators or cabinets where you can’t close the door if they are stacked in this manner.
Large-Format Bottles (Greater than 750 milliliters)
Did you know that wineries make really large bottles of wine (they make small ones also)? In fact some of them are so large they seem impractical, especially from a wine storage standpoint. Why would wineries make wine in such seemingly ridiculous wine bottle sizes, and if you bought one how would it be used and stored?
Most wineries bottle very few big wine bottles, and they are often special releases used to showcase outstanding vintages, mark a winery’s anniversary, or for charitable purposes.
Wine is aged through the chemical process of oxidation. There’s a small amount of oxygen trapped inside every wine bottle (this empty space is called ullage). A big wine bottle has less oxygen relative to the volume of wine, which means that the wine oxidizes more slowly. Slower oxidation often translates into better maturation or a higher quality wine.
Better Aging Potential
If you want to put a bottle away for a great occasion many years in the future, a large-format bottle is a safe bet. Slower oxidation means that large-format wine bottles will reach their peak long after 750 milliliter bottles have reached their prime. Conversely, for immediate consumption get a half bottle. They don’t age well, and oxidize faster because the ullage is larger relative to the amount of wine.
Resistance to Temperature Fluctuations
The larger volume of liquid in a large-format wine bottle takes longer to warm or cool and is therefore more resistant to potentially damaging temperature fluctuations. This may be a benefit if you have less than ideal cellar conditions, but given the price of some of these wine bottles, it may not be a good idea to risk it.
There’s nothing like bringing out an impressive, truly large bottle at a big celebration like a wedding or anniversary party. They’re an immediate attention getter.
In terms of pricing, large-format wine bottles offer no volume discount. In fact the larger the bottle, or the more wine you buy, the more it costs per liter. At a relatively recent record-breaking auction in Chicago (May 2007), 12 bottles of 1989 Chateau Petrus (Bordeaux) sold for $38,240. At that same auction 2 double-magnums (equivalent of 8 bottles) of the exact same wine and vintage, 1989 Chateau Petrus sold for $45,410. That’s 3.0 liters less of the same wine for an extra $7,000.
Pouring directly from a large wine bottle is not a good idea, besides having to heft a heavy bottle, the wine can come out under enough pressure to knock a glass out of your hand. The best way is to siphon it into a 750ml capacity decanter.
Opening big wine bottles can be a pain. The corks of large-format wine bottles have a larger diameter than standard bottles, but they are usually normal in length. Be certain you have a firm grip in the cork with the corkscrew and start pulling very gently, making sure the cork is moving and sliding free from the glass instead of bulging next to the corkscrew insertion point. Once the cork is moving, you should have no trouble.
Storage will obviously be a problem. Magnum and Diamond racks were mentioned above. But, fitting a bottle larger than a magnum (2 bottles) in a wine rack in your wine cooler or cabinet is not likely. You may need to simply keep it in its original packaging in conditions as close to ideal as possible.
Where do you chill your Methuselah (8 bottles) of Champagne? You can take all the racks out of your refrigerator or chill it in the bathtub or a kiddie pool. Any large vessel will do.
Big Wine Bottle Names and Sizes
There are two categories of large-format wine bottles, Bordeaux and Burgundy / Champagne. Most people know that a double-bottle is called a magnum, but as the bottles get bigger many of them take on the names of Biblical kings. The rest of the bottles follow:
- Magnum: 1.5 liters (2 bottles)
- Marie-Jeanne: 2.25 liters (3 bottles)
- Double Magnum: 3 liters (4 bottles)
- Jeroboam: 4.5 liters (6 bottles), 5 liters in the USA
- Imperial: 6 liters (8 bottles)
Bordeaux wines are rarely bottled in anything larger than an Imperial.
Burgundy / Champagne
- Magnum: 1.5 liters (2 bottles)
- Jeroboam: 3 liters (4 bottles)
- Rehoboam: 4.5 liters (6 bottles)
- Methuselah: 6 liters (8 bottles)
- Salmanazar: 9 liters (12 bottles)
- Balthazar: 12 liters (16 bottles)
- Nebuchadnezzar: 15 liters (20 bottles)
Larger sizes are very rare:
- Melchoir: 18 liters (24 bottles)
- Solomon: 20 liters (28 bottles)
- Sovereign: 25.5 liters (34 bottles)
- Primat: 27 liters (36 bottles)
Veuve Clicquot wine bottle sizes display (Champagne)
- quarter (or piccolo) = 0.188 liter (smallest)
- half = 0.375 liter
- full = 0.75 liter
- magnum = 1.5 liter
- Jeroboam = 3 liter
- Methuselah = 6 liter
- Salmanazar = 9 liter
- Balthazar = 12 liter (largest)