Be it stacked on the shelves of your local supermarket, winery or favorite restaurant, it’s clear to see that wine bottles come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. There’s the long-necked sloping shoulder wine bottle, darker in color for Pinot Noir and much lighter for Chardonnay, this bottle has long been associated with the Burgundy region of France. Then, there’s what we might consider the classic bottle shape, with high shoulders and a much shorter neck, this type of bottle comes in all shades depending on the wine contained within. Think deep dark green with slightly off-white label and you could be talking about any number of fine wines from Bordeaux.
The Standard 750 ml Wine Bottle
One thing, however, that all these different bottles of wine have in common is that even though they appear to be different in size, they actually all have the same capacity - 750 ml. It’s unclear why this value was first chosen to be used as the standard for both red wine and white wine, with some theories suggesting that it was the maximum size possible that glassblowers could produce with one full breath. Others argue that one fifth of a gallon (757 ml) was a good, daily ration of wine for a man at the time in which the bottle was being developed.
It may come as some surprise to many, then, to hear that while these different looking bottles all have the same capacity, there are at least 9 other specified sizes of bottle that exist, but that are rarely used or seen. These sizes may become even more rare as the packaging industry for wine changes, learn more about this in our wine packaging feature, "Boxed Wine, Cans & Tetra Paks®: The Future of Wine Packaging".
Micro-Oxygenation and Evolution of Wine
Before looking at the different sizes of bottles (and what they commonly contain), it’s worth first thinking about why different sizes exist in the first place.
While large amounts of oxygen are bad for wine, converting it to vinegar, very small amounts over long periods of time alter the chemical makeup ever so slightly, adding the various flavors of evolution that we look for and enjoy. Corks, both natural and some synthetic varieties, are designed to allow just the right amount of oxygen into the wine bottle to help the wine evolve in this way.
The surface area of a cork is pretty much always the same, meaning that a good quality cork, without flaw, will always transfer a regular amount of oxygen into the wine bottle. Using this logic, one can assume that the speed at which a wine evolves will depend on the amount of liquid within the bottle. Or put more simply, the more liquid there is inside the bottle, the lesser the effects of oxygen entering, and the longer the wine can be stored. Or to put it simpler, the bigger the bottle, the longer the wine inside (assuming it is of sufficient quality and potential) can be stored for or aged.
The Many Different Wine Bottles and Sizes
- Half-Bottle - 375 ml (½ Bottle) - This bottle is good for single servings. Very rarely used for wine of high quality, as it is not suited for long term storage or aging.
- Standard Bottle (Bottle) - 750 ml (1 Bottle) - This is the bottle we are most familiar with sold in grocery stores, by wine merchants and in liquor stores. All wines from Pinot Noir to Chardonnay come in this size.
- Magnum - 1.5 L (2 Bottles) - Besides the previous two, likely to be the only other size you might have heard of on this list, the magnum bottle contains the amount of wine of two standard bottles.
- Double Magnum - 3 L (4 Bottles) - As mentioned above, the magnum doubles the standard 750 ml bottle, and the double magnum doubles the magnum bottle.
- Jeroboam - 3 L (4 Bottles) for Sparkling wine/ 4.5 L (6 Bottles) for still wine - Ever witnessed the scenes at the end of a Formula One race? Those are Jeroboam sparkling wine bottles that the drivers are using to shower each other in expensive Champagne/sparkling wine.
- Rehoboam - 4.5 L (6 Bottles) - This bottle is used exclusively for Champagne.
- Imperial - 6 L (8 Bottles) - This bottle comes in the form of the earlier mentioned classic or Bordeaux wine bottle, with high shoulders and a shorter neck.
- Methuselah - 6 L (8 Bottles) - It holds the same capacity as the Imperial bottle but in the Burgundy form.
- Salmanazar - 9 L (12 Bottles) - This is quite simply put, the equivalent of one case of wine inside one bottle.
- Balthazar - 12 L (16 Bottles) - This bottle is only ever going to be used for a seriously good wine with potential to be stored over many years.
- Nebuchadnezzar - 15 L (20 Bottles) - The biggest of all wine bottles available. You’ll need to invite around more than just a few friends if you’re thinking of opening one of these. This bottle is named after the infamous king of Babylon.