Monday, November 5, 2007

Size (and shape) Does Matter to Wine

I've always been intrigued with the various shapes and sizes bottles of wine and champagne are produced or chosen by winemakers. Pinot Noir has its own shape with a slightly skinnier neck and more bulbous lower half. Riesling has its thinner and taller overall distinguishing shape. Port and Sherry have their distinct shapes as well. Even Chardonnay bottles have their own bottle shape with is what most would consider a 'normal' style of what wine bottles look like. And of course, Champagne bottles are mostly thick and shapely to exude a sexiness to its overall allure. Most of these shapes come from century old traditions of the local regions.

One of the lesser known bottle idiosyncrasies are the actual number of "official" sizes that are manufactured for producers. Interestingly enough, there is quite the exotic history behind the naming of these bottles and the level of sizes they encompass.

The are listed in the following order according to size/volume (liters):

Name/No. Equiv. Bottles
Standard (.75) 1
Magnum (1.5) 2
Jeroboam (3) 4
Rehoboam (4.5) 6
Methuselah (6) 8
Salmanazar (9) 12
Balthazar (12) 16
Nebuchadnezzar (15) 20
Melchior (18) 24
Solomon (20) 28*
Primat (27) 36*
Melchizedek (30) 40*

* Technically correct, but rarely used or referred to in the wine business.

Now, most of these names came from Biblical references to ruling kings, character names or other major (political) figures of the time. I'll run through a few of my favorites...

Methuselah - literally means "man of dart" (?), but more interestingly, he was known as the oldest person whose age is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible at 969 years. He was believed to eclipse Adam, who was stated to have lived 930 years. Genesis 5:27 states, "And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died" Genesis 5:5 states, "So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died." Oddly enough, he was believed to have died at the time of the 'great flood'.

Balthazar - one of the three kings that brought gifts to baby Jesus. He was believed to be of African descent and the only 'person of color' mentioned at that time.

Nebuchadnezzar - name of several reigning kings of Babylonia.

Rehoboam - was a king of the ancient Kingdom of Judah, succeeding his father Solomon. His grandfather was David. He was the third king of the House of David and the first of the Kingdom of Judah. His mother was Naamah "the Ammonitess." His name means he who enlarges the people.

So, the next time you are out at a restaurant and you see that big bottle sitting on display, you'll have a much greater appreciation for its history and the stories that come along with it. Plus, you might be able to share your new found knowledge with the staff, and surprise them as most do not know the origin or history of these somewhat exorbitant displays.

Until the next sip...swirl ya' later!

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