Look! Up in the Sky...

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a 100 pound bottle of wine. While we don’t encounter much other than the standard 750 milliliter wine bottle, there are a surprising number of sizes out there. Metric standards for wine bottles have been in use in the United States since 1979. The size of the standard metric wine bottle has an historic precedent. A "fifth" (1/5 of a gallon or 4/5 of a quart) is 25.6 ounces. Converted to milliliters and rounded for convenience you get 750 ml or 25.4 ounces. So the standard metric wine bottle is roughly equivalent to the old English standard of the fifth.

Many of these are very large format bottles bearing the names of Biblical figures like the evil king Nebuchadnezzar, the long-lived Methuselah and the priest-king Melchizedek. Although the names originated with the French, I haven’t been able to find a rationale for these names in my research, so if you can explain the biblical reference please write and tell me so I can share the explanation.

Split: A split bottle is a quarter of a standard 750 ml bottle of wine, or 187.5 ml. Though you can find a few expensive wines in splits, this size is mostly used for sparkling wine.

Half: As the name implies the half-bottle is 375 ml or half the size of the standard bottle. The half bottle is becoming more common on restaurant menus.

Standard: This is the typical or standard 750 ml (3/4 liter) wine bottle.

Magnum: A magnum holds a liter and a half and is the equivalent of two standard bottles. The magnum-size bottle is fairly common, especially for sparkling wines, but it is the largest format that can be said for.

Double Magnum: Double magnums hold three liters or the equivalent of four standard bottles.

Jeroboam: A Jeroboam, also called a Rehoboam, holds four and a half liters or six standard bottles. Our first biblical reference, Jeroboam was the first king of the northern Israelite kingdom.

Methuselah: A Methuselah holds six liters or eight standard bottles of wine. The bottles from here forward are rarely seen. Methuselah is the oldest person whose age is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.

Salamanzar: The Salamanzar holds nine liters or 12 standard bottles. Salamanzar was a king of Assyria.

Balthazar: A Balthazar bottle holds 12 liters of wine or 16 standard bottles. Balthazar was one of the three wise men.

Nebuchadnezzar: This monster holds a whopping 20 standard bottles of wine, or about 16 liters. Nebuchadnezzar was a Babylonian king.

Melchior: Even bigger, a Melchior holds 18 liters or 24 standard bottles. Melchior was another of the three wise men.

Solomon: I’m not sure how wise it is, but a Solomon holds 20 liters or the equivalent of 27 standard-sized bottles of wine. Solomon was a wise king of Israel.

Sovereign: The sovereign contains approximately 25 liters or 33 1/3 standard-sized bottles of wine. I wonder why the odd 1/3 bottle at this point?

Primat: Almost the largest size bottle, the Primat contains 27 liters or 36 standard bottles of wine. Primat appears as if it might be derived from the Latin primas, implying this is as big as bottles get. But there’s still one size that’s larger.

Melchizedek: Finally, the biggest of them all is the Melchizedek. A Melchizedek holds an unbelievable 30 liters of wine or 40 standard 750 ml bottles. Melchizedek was a priest-king in the time of Abram.

These very large format bottles are not very practical and are created as much for show, special occasions and decoration as anything else. Consider for example the weight of some of these bottles. One liter of water weighs 2.2 pounds. So just the contents of the largest bottle, the Melchizedek, weighs 66 pounds. The three-foot plus tall bottle itself has got to weight 30 or more pounds, so you’re looking at a bottle of wine approaching 100 pounds. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be on the receiving end of five guys trying to pour a glass of wine from one of these things.