Everything you Didn't Know About Large-Format Wine Bottles

Posted November 13, 2014

Howard Kaplan

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Like anybody who has been inside a Costco and contemplated buying a pallet of maple syrup, so you’ve probably learned that the larger quantity you buy, the lower the unit cost, right? You can pretty much apply this rule to any situation you can think of, especially in retail. The wine business is no exception; the cost per bottle often goes down when you buy a case.

The big exception is the big bottle

However, there is one huge exception to this rule: big wine bottles. A big (or “large format”) wine bottle can range from magnums (1.5 litres) to giant bottles, sometimes as large as the equivalent of 40 bottles. So, why are these big bottles so much more expensive?

Well, like the law of supply and demand has taught us: when demand is strong and supply is small, the price usually goes up. That scenario describes large format bottles.

Everybody's making them

A vast majority of any winery's production will be composed of standard 750ml bottles. Usually, and this is merely a general rule, a winery will supplement their 750ml bottles with a small production of half bottles and magnums.

On rare occasions, a winery will produce a line of bottles larger than magnums, basically because if the wine is exceptionally good and equally cellar-worthy, collectors will covet these bottles for their high quality and rarity. Additionally, sommeliers love to have large format bottles on their wine lists; they make a statement and create excitement for their patrons.

So why go big?

So what motivates a consumer to seek out a large format bottle, even if they might pay a hefty price to own it? In most instances the bottle is saved for a special occasion, like a wedding or a graduation. And let’s be honest: there is something to be said for sheer size, and large format bottles fit that bill nicely.

As a plus, the larger the bottle, the longer it will take to mature. People often mention that wine from large format bottles tastes fresher and better. The idea that a large format wine could be superior to a regular bottle when fully mature definitely motivates people to purchase these big bottles.

The law of supply and demand is in full control.

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For the record, here is a list of large format sizes larger than magnums. Volume equivalent in bottles is noted in parenthesis. Marie Jeanne (2.25 L, or 3 btls), Double Magnum (3L, or 4 bottles), Jeroboam (4.5L or 6btls), Imperial (6L or 8 btls), Salmanazar (9L or 12 btls), Balthazar (12L or 16 btls), Nebuchadnezzar (15L or 20 btls), Melchior (18L or 24 btls), Solomon (26.66 btls), Sovereign (33.33 btls), Primat or Goliath (36 btls), and Melchizedek or Midas (40 btls).

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Howard Kaplan is a co-founder of Executive Wine Seminars, a New York based organization focusing on tasting rare and coveted wines.  He started writing about wine in the early 1980s for Wine Spectator and Cuisine Magazine. Today, Howard’s tasting notes can be found on both Stephen Tanzer and Robert Parker’s websites.

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