The American wine industry has blossomed in just a few decades as vines have matured and wine science has gained a foothold in the U.S. Wine has replaced distilled spirits in many social situations, and most of us still rely on our wine seller for information about wineries and vintages. We can be a little more knowledgeable, though, if we learn about the bottles that store these tasty results of the vintner's art. Let's start with the most common sizes: the bottle and the magnum.
A standard wine bottle holds 750 millilitres (ml) of wine (or Champagne, cognac or other type of wine). Although some variations occur (500ml bottles for some ports), 750ml is the standard for wine. Every other size is measured from this standard. A magnum holds two bottles (1,500ml), or 1.5 litres (L). A litre is equivalent to about 1.06 quarts.
Along with volume, the wine industry observes certain general standards for bottle shapes. These shapes carry through to magnums as well. A Rhine wine will generally be narrow with a tall neck, while French whites and reds are usually bottled in straight, fairly short-necked bottles. Champagne, the bubbly wine of the region of the same name, is bottled in a distinctive bottle of its own, while a Champagne cognac like Remy Martin is put into a similar shape with shorter body and a bit longer neck. Although some vintners use exotic shapes and some design their own distinctive bottles, most follow a traditional shape for the origin of their wine. This shape is used no matter what the volume, so some magnums, like the Riesling pictured with the Champagne bottle in the previous section, may be as much as 20 inches tall.
Until the eighteenth century, wine was drawn from the barrel in which it was aged. Every manor had a cellar with barrels, and servants drew off wine into pitchers for the table. Beginning in the eighteenth century, glassblowing became widely -enough practised to provide bottles for wine for transport. Legend has it that the standard 750ml size was established by the size of one "blow" by the bottle maker. The French came up with the names for the standard bottle sizes. Although differences in naming have persisted that have their roots in the competition between the Champagne and Burgundy regions, the magnum's equivalency to two "bottles" remains unchanged.
Magnum means "great" or "extra-large" in Latin. According to some wine experts, magnum bottles also allow wine to age more gracefully, developing complexities not possible in the smaller bottle size. Magnums are most commonly used for Champagne. The magnum's popularity is based on its ease of handling and availability. Every bottle, no matter what size, must have its volume marked on its label.
Wine is not cheaper by the magnum--unless it is an inferior wine. Good wines are frequently more expensive by the magnum. Champagne (and Methode Champenoise) wines are bottled only in 750ml bottles, magnums and double magnums (Jeroboams). The "splits" (quarter bottle) and massive "Nebuchadnezzar" (20 bottles) are drawn from pressurised tanks for distribution.