Most wine comes to the consumer in a familiar 750 ml bottle. Five standard five-ounce pours. A dozen two-ounce tasting portions. Just right for two to celebrate heartily. Perhaps a single serving to get over that last relationship, but we won’t judge.
Most wine drinkers have watched with just a little bit of awe and envy as neighboring tables at fine restaurants pop and pour, with flourish and circumstance, large format bottles of delicious wines. Why are Magnums, Jeroboams, and Methuselahs such rock stars in the wine world?
Wine bottles are not filled to the brim. At the top of every bottle is a small space where oxygen hangs out. The larger the bottle, the lower the oxygen-to-wine ratio. The lower that ratio, the less chance of an over-oxidized vinegar in that bottle as opposed to a lovely, mellow sip. As oxygen meets wine and their chemical elements mix and mingle, a series of reactions unfold. Some of those reactions soften tannins, mellow colours, and weave complex flavours and aromas.
Too much of oxygen, however, makes a wine dull and bitter, robbing it of flavour, colour, and aroma. The longer the wine remains in the bottle, the more complete the process of oxygen interaction. Aging in a properly stored bottle usually produces a smoother, more complex sip. Aging in a properly stored large format bottle produces wine with an even smoother, even more interesting profile.
The process of wine oxidation in the bottle, written in the language of chemistry, looks something like a diagram drawn by a coach on a chalkboard. Outlining a complex blitz play, the arrows and interceptions are everywhere and chemical players with really long scientific names are assigned very complicated tasks. Let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that time in the bottle, with proper storage and good winemaking techniques using quality grapes, is usually a good thing.
Large format bottles like the 3L Double Magnum, the 6L Methuselah, the 9L Salmanazar, or the 12L Balthazar, take respectively longer to heat up and cool down, making them better at weathering temperature fluctuations.
Storing wine at temperatures outside the ideal range of 11-14º C/52-58º F speeds up the chemical reactions taking place in the bottle, aging them faster than intended. The higher or lower the temperature exposure, and the longer the length of that exposure, the more damage done.
A regular size 750 ml bottle of wine that spends an hour or two in a hot car is going to suffer irreparable damage. A large format bottle, just by its very nature a rare and exotic, not to mention expensive, creature commands attention to detail like temperature, and is very unlikely to spend much time unattended in a hot warehouse. When you invest in a bottle like this, you take care of it.
Winemakers tend to save outstanding vintage or special release wines for large format bottles. The supply is often a very limited one that is highly allocated from the moment of announcement. That translates to “hard to get.” Thus, a large format bottle offers an incredible sip that is simply unavailable in more common formats.
Bottles of large format wines are not only a hefty lift and pour, but a weight on the wallet as well, easily topping $2000. It is the rare diner that can add that to the tab and not feel the pinch. An exclusive clutch of eclectic restaurants have begun to offer these incredible wines by the glass, opening just one giant each night and pouring, to the delight of those present, for around $20-30 per glass. While it’s not for everyone, it is decidedly a treat for some.
The Experience Factor
Lastly, there is joy and wonder in simply taking part in the experience of drinking a wine special enough to warrant large format bottling. Everything about a large format pour, from hauling the bottle out onto the dining floor, to shouldering the magnificent monster in a proper leather harness, and pouring with great care delivers an unforgettable evening like no other. We know you are wondering so here’s the biggest: The 30 L Melchizedek. Cheers!