The Collector’s Guide to Wine Bottle Sizes

The Collector’s Guide to Wine Bottle Sizes

Different wine bottle sizes, or “formats” as they are known, can be confusing. This quick guide explains wine bottle size names and how many litres each contains.
Different wine bottle sizes, or “formats” as they are known, can be confusing. This quick guide explains wine bottle size names and how many litres each contains.

The Standard Bottle

This is the keystone of all types of wine production and the most common answer to the question, “How big is a wine bottle?” 750 ml bottles are considered the standard size and are equivalent to six glasses of wine (or four for us!). Twelve bottles usually make up a full case of wine, although six-bottle cases are becoming more common as demand increases and Bordeaux châteaux spread their customer allocations.

The Half Bottle

Demi or half bottles, measuring 375ml, are handy for the impatient among us because the tannins soften more rapidly and allow us to broach a Bordeaux wine a few years before the recommended drinking window. They are also the favoured format for sweet wines and dessert wines like Sauternes, which are generally served in smaller glasses. Winemakers also produce quarter bottles called a piccolo. These measure at 187ml and are typically intended for a single serving.

The Magnum

At 1.5 litres, magnums are twice the standard bottle size. Wine lovers are particularly fond of magnum bottle shapes as they are considered the ideal format for ageing and, according to Master of Wine Serena Sutcliffe, are perfect for sharing à deux!

A lot including 4 magnums of Sassicaia 1998 (left) and one including 1 melchior of Château Cheval Blanc 2006 (right) sold in 2018 and 2010 respectively.

The Double Magnum and Jeroboam

Double magnums are equivalent to two magnums – except in Burgundy and Champagne where the 3-litre format is known as a Jeroboam. A Jeroboam of Champagne is the quintessential celebration bottle and rarely seen at auction because most are drunk! The Jeroboam bottle size in Bordeaux is interesting because it contains 5 litres and, up to 1978, most were (only) 4.5 litres. Typically, winemakers will call a 4.5 litre bottle a Rehoboam.

The Imperial and Methuselah

Like the 3-litre size, the 6-litre goes by two different names: Imperial in Bordeaux and Methuselah in Burgundy and Champagne. The Methuselah is the largest format available for Burgundy bottles. The sheer mass of wine in this bottle size keeps it virtually frozen in time, as the surface area to volume ratio is much lower, slowing down the ageing process. They are also made in limited numbers and command high prices due to their scarcity.


The Biblical Kings

In Bordeaux and Champagne, even larger bottles exist and these are named after Biblical kings – so we have Salmanazar, the Assyrian King (9 litres), Balthazar (12 litres), Nebuchadnezzar (15 litres), the 18-litre Melchior, equivalent to 24 standard bottles of wine, Solomon (20 litres), Primat or Goliath (27 litres), and the most majestic of all, Melchizedek or Midas sparkling wine or champagne bottles measuring in at 30 litres.


And Beyond

A 98-litre bottle of port was originally sold as ‘The Largest Wine Bottle in the World’ in 1998 before returning to auction at Sotheby’s in 2023. One of the largest bottles ever produced held 130 litres and stood 1.38 metres tall. You could pour 1,200 glasses from it, although you would need to be strong as it weighed 68 kg empty! Nicknamed ‘Maximus’, it was auctioned for charity by Sotheby’s New York in 2004.


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