Do You Know the Different Wine Bottle Sizes?

Close-Up Of Wine Bottles Over White Background
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Glass wine bottles come in more than 12 sizes, though you are probably most familiar with the standard 750 ml or .75 liter wine bottle.

Changing Standard

The standard size wine bottle in the U.S. before 1979 was originally called a "fifth" for 1/5 of a gallon, which equaled roughly .757 liter. Afterward, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms adopted metric measurements for all wine bottles in the U.S.

Biblical Proportions

Bigger, novelty bottles of wine have been named after biblical figures and predominant kings of Israel. The reason is largely unknown. The figure of speech, "Biblical proportions" refers to something which happens on the grandest scale possible on earth. These super large wine bottles are exactly that.

Take a look at current bottle sizes from smallest to largest.

TypeSizeDescription
Split or piccolo bottle187 ml1/4 of a standard bottle
Half or demi bottle375 ml1/2 of standard bottle
Standard bottle750 ml1 standard bottle
Magnum1.5 liters2 standard bottles
Tregnum (of Marie Jeanne)2.25 liters3 standard bottles
Jeroboam3 to 4.5 litersSparkling wines (3 liters/4 bottles), still wine (4.5 liters/6 bottles); first king of Northern Kingdom of Israel
Rehoboam4.5 liters6 standard bottles; fourth king of Israel, first king of Judah
Methuselah or imperial6 liters8 standard bottles; oldest man in the Bible
Salmanazar8 liters12 standard bottles; king of Assyria
Balthazar12 liters16 standard bottles; one of the wise men/three kings at Jesus' nativity
Nebuchadnezzar15 liters20 standard bottles; king of Babylon
Melchior or Solomon18 liters24 standard bottles; Melchior (wise man/three king) and Solomon (King of Israel, son of David)

Bottle Shapes

Just like there are a number of sizes of wine bottles, there a vast number of shapes of bottles used. 

Most winemakers choose to go with one of the three most common shapes: the Bordeaux bottle, the Burgundy bottle, and the Alsace bottle. The type of bottle shape that is used should not affect the taste of the wine.

The shape of the bottle is mostly a nod to the history of the wine and the region of production. The Bordeaux bottle is best recognized by having shoulders, whereas a burgundy bottle, used for bottling Chardonnay and pinot noir, has more of a gentle slope. An Alsace bottle, mostly used for bottling Riesling wines, is long and slender.

Bottle Colors

Most wine bottles are in a hue of green. Some wines like rosé may be bottled in clear bottles. Reds are usually bottled in dark green bottles, while whites are in light green bottles.

The main reason wines are bottled in green bottles is to prevent oxidation. A little bit of oxygen is good for wine, especially after you open the bottle. There are special decanters that are made to help infuse oxygen into the wine to open up the flavor of the wine. While a bottle of wine ages, and it has had too much contact with oxygen, it can dull the wine or become oxidized, which can spoil the wine and make it taste like vinegar.

Fermentation in the Bottle

Some wines are fermented in the bottle, others are bottled only after fermentation. Most champagne houses cannot allow secondary fermentation to occur in bottles larger than a magnum due to the difficulty of riddling large, heavy bottles.

Riddling refers to the turning of the bottles with the neck downwards and lightly shaking or twisting the bottle to move the sediments from the bottom.

If champagne or sparkling wine is going to bottled in bottles larger than a magnum, then after the secondary fermentation is completed, the champagne must be transferred from a magnum into a larger bottle. This transfer results in a loss of pressure. Wine experts believe that this re-bottling may expose the champagne to greater oxidation and may result in an inferior product compared to champagne which remains in the bottle in which it was fermented.