Sizing Up Wine Bottles
Many bottles of wine lined up in random size order

I showed up at a holiday gathering recently and presented the host and hostess with a very expensive bottle of Caymus Cabernet. They recognized the renowned vintage, and for a moment they were obviously impressed, but that reaction quickly passed. My penchant for selecting the perfect showing-up-at-your-party gift was surpassed into oblivion by an ancient king from the Bible. You see, immediately after I walked in, Salmanazar showed up.

Salmanazar is a HUGE bottle of wine. In this case, a huge wine bottle containing 9 liters of Rombauer Chardonnay, a heralded Napa elixir -- the equivalent of 12 times as much wine as my insignificant and now-forgotten 750ml standard bottle.

Wine comes in a bottle that has become standard in magnitude. Whether you pull from your cellar some Foley Pinot Noir, some Tobin James Ballistic Zinfandel, or some Fazeli Cellars Phel Phel, you can expect the exact same quantity of vino. A standard wine bottle contains 750ml, or about 25.4 ounces. That provides about five glasses of wine. Maybe a bit more or less, depending on the gusto of the server.

But there are other sizes. Order a Kendall Jackson Chardonnay on a United Airlines flight to Chicago, and the flight attendant will place on your back-of-the-seat mini-table a Split with an upturned plastic cup draped over its top. A Split is the equivalent of 1/4 of a regular bottle. Or peruse the cheap wine section at your local Target Store, and for less than $10 per bottle, you'll find plenty of Magnums filled with Beringer White Zinfandel or Barefoot Merlot. A Magnum is the equivalent of two standard bottles. And a Beringer White Zinfandel is perhaps best appreciated swilled directly from the bottle, concealed in a brown paper bag.

There are many more bottle sizes, and by convention, most of the larger formats are named after Israeli kings from the Bible. Here they are:

  • 1/4 bottle = Split or Pony or Piccolo
  • 1/2 bottle = Demi ---1 bottle = Standard
  • 2 bottles = Magnum
  • 3 bottles = Marie Jeanne or Jennie
  • 4 bottles = Jeroboam or Double Magnum
  • 6 bottles = Rehoboam ---8 bottles = Methuselah or Imperial
  • 12 bottles = Salmanazar
  • 16 bottles = Balthazar
  • 20 bottles = Nebuchadnezzar
  • 24 bottles = Melchior
  • 26 bottles = Solomon
  • 35 bottles = Sovereign
  • 36 bottles = Primat or Goliath
  • 40 bottles = Melchizedek or Midas

At the party I attended, there were some 60 revelers. So my gift was not intended to be opened immediately, but rather for the hosts to enjoy later, perhaps with a few close friends. Preferably, including me. It was therefore tasteful, and appropriate in size. The uncouth guests who brought the Salmanazar brought enough wine in a single bottle to pour glasses for every attendee. That's just not right.

At least, that's what I'm telling myself. What I'll tell you is this: if you visit my home, feel free to bring me an Israeli king.


~ Kay Syrah

Wine Country Guru Gal

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