SIZE MATTERS

Champagne, more than any other kind of wine, comes in lots of sizes. And size matters … and, at least when it comes to Champagne bottles, so do the names that describe it. The standard Champagne bottle is 750ml and all the Champagne bottle sizes are based on it. So there are bottles and half-bottles and splits … and there are magnums (aka “mags”) and double-magnums and so on. 750ml bottles are the most common and least expensive way to buy wine. There is an up-charge for small formats (bottles smaller than 750ml) because the packaging materials cost more and there is more labor involved. And there is an up-charge for large formats (bottles larger than 750ml) because there is more cost in the actual bottles and the sizes above a magnum are generally bottled by hand which greatly increases the labor cost.
Small formats are desirable for convenience sake, for portion control, and in some cases for quality control. A half-bottle (375ml, aka as a half or a demi) of sparkling wine may suffice for two people for a glass of Champagne before dinner (Although I have long subscribed to British wine-writer Serena Sutcliffe’s notion that “the perfect size Champagne bottle for a romantic evening for two … is a magnum.”) By the same token, a split (187ml, aka a quarter or quarter-bottle) may be the right size for someone who wants just a glass of bubbly.

Large Formats (aka party jugs) are those bottles that are larger than the standard 750ml. A one-and-a-half-liter bottle (2-x-750ml equivalent) is called a magnum. A three-liter of sparkling wine is known as a Jeroboam (king of Israel in from 922 BC to 901 BC). Jeroboams have been known in certain “gentlemen’s establishments” as cherry-bombs – which might lead to a different kind of “romantic evening for two”. Larger sizes include the four-and-a-half-liter Rehoboam (king of Judah from 922 BC to 915 BC), the six-liter bottle Methuzelah (named for an extremely long-lived fellow mentioned in Genesis), and a nine-liter Salmanazar (named for Shalmaneser, an Assyrian king mentioned in the Bible’s Second Book of Kings). A standard case of wine (12x750ml bottles) holds nine liters so a Salmanazar is the equivalent of a case of Champagne. A Balthazar (named for one of the three Magi who followed the Christmas star to Bethlehem) holds 12 liters. A Nebucadnezzar (named for Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar II who lived from 605BC to 562BC) holds 15 liters. Whether it is called a Melchior (another of the three Magi) or a Solomon (after the third king of Israel and Judah) the bottle holds 18 liters (however a Solomon may also be a 20L). The Primat holds 27 liters. The 30-liter Melchizedek is named for the “King of Shalem and Priest of God Most High” encountered by Abraham on his mission to rescue his nephew Lot.

It is generally accepted that magnums are the best size for aging wine whether still or sparkling. The 1.5L size, due the ratio of wine to air in the bottle, seems to be the ideal for development.

In general, the full Champagne process is carried out only in bottles and magnums with some houses also working in halves and Jeroboams. Splits of Champagne (quarter-bottles) are usually made in magnum and decanted into splits at disgorgement. Larger sizes likewise are disgorged from bottles or magnums and re-bottled to order. As the larger sizes generally are not made “in-this-bottle”, they do not retain their fizz nearly as well as bottles or magnums and so are not good candidates for keeping. Think of sizes larger than magnums as party jugs for immediate consumption.

Name / Capacity / Number of “bottles”
Split (Quarter Bottle) / 187ml / 1/4
Half-Bottle / 375ml / 1/2
Bottle / 750ml / 1
Magnum / 1.5L / 2
Jeroboam / 3L / 4
Rehoboam / 4.5L / 6
Methuselah / 6L / 8
Salmanazar / 9L / 12
Balthazar / 12L / 16
Nebuchadnezzar / 15L / 20
Melchior / 18L / 24
Solomon / 18L or 20L / 24 or 26.66
Primat / 27L / 36
Melchizedek / 30L / 40