Size really does matter…!

Wine / Thursday, October 1st, 2020

… especially when you’re talking about a bottle of Rob’s sensational wine!

Thanks to everyone who jumped onto our Cape D’Estaing offer so quickly on Tuesday and apologies to anyone who missed out!

The fact that we (I actually blame Rob!) broke the website means that there were a lot of you out there keen to help Rob clean out his cellar.

We hope you were able to grab at least a bottle or two of what you wanted.

It’s all gone for now, but let’s see what Santa has in his sack later in the year…!!


For now, I thought it might be fun to have another quick look at bottle sizes. Some of you are now proud owners of a Magnum or two of Cape d’Estaing. One lucky purchaser was even brave enough to add a Jeroboam of the 1998 Admiral’s Reserve Shiraz to their cellar! My “Responsible Service of Alcohol” accreditation says that I should suggest you invite a couple of friends over to share that one, but we won’t judge if those friends don’t happen to turn up!

Take a look at this photo of the three sizes of Cape D’Estaing bottles that were on offer. The one on the right is the standard 750mL bottle. It looks positively tiny in comparison to the Jeroboam (3L) on the left!

It got me thinking about what other bottle sizes there are out there and how they came to get their unusual names…






Let’s start with the simple bit first. 

Thanks to wikipedia, here is a table of wine bottle names along with the volume and ratio of wine each one holds in relation to a standard 750mL bottle.

The names were given for biblical kings and historical figures, so a quick description of who those people were is given in the notes…

Volume (L) Ratio Name Notes
0.1875 0.25 Piccolo “Small” in Italian. Also known as a quarter bottleponysnipe or split.
0.375 0.5 Demi “Half” in French. Also known as a half bottle
0.750 1 Standard Common bottle size for most wine
1.5 2 Magnum Equivalent to two standard bottles
3.0 4 Jeroboam Biblical, first king of Northern Kingdom. “Jeroboam” indicates different sizes for different regions in France.
4.5 6
4.5 6 Rehoboam Biblical, First king of separate Judea. A sparkling wine bottle with six standard bottles.
6.0 8 Imperial one Imperial gallon
6.0 8 Methuselah Biblical, Oldest Man
9.0 12 Salmanazar Biblical, Assyrian King. Equivalent to twelve standard 750 ml bottles or a full case of wine!
12.0 16 Balthazar or Belshazzar Balthazar—one of three Wise Men to present gifts at Jesus’ nativity; Belshazzar can also denote the co-regent of Babylon during the madness of Nebuchadnezzar, for whom the next-larger bottle size is named.
15.0 20 Nebuchadnezzar Biblical, King of Babylon
18.0 24 Melchior One of three Wise Men to present gifts at Jesus’ nativity
18.0 24 Solomon Biblical, King of Israel, Son of David
26.25 35 Sovereign Reportedly created by Taittinger in 1988 for the launch of the then world’s largest cruise liner Sovereign of the Seas
27.0 36 Primat or Goliath “Primat” likely from the Late Latin prīmās (chief, noble); Goliath—Biblical, killed by David
30.0 40 Melchizedek or Midas Melchizedek—Biblical, King of Salem; Midas may refer to the mythical king of Phrygia in Greek mythology



Now onto the difficult bit.

Why were they named after biblical figures??!! And who did the naming?

The easy answer is… no one knows!

As with most things though, everyone seems to have an opinion about it.


It seems the common opinion is that it all started with the Jeroboam.

Jeroboam was the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. His name is often said to mean “may the people grow numerous.” He was a pagan who encouraged people to worship golden calves he had placed in the towns of Bethel and Dan rather than go to Jerusalem to worship. Because of this, he is also known as the man who “made Israel to sin.” 

So, interpret that as you will! The “growing numerous” reference ties in well with the size of the bottle. And perhaps drinking that much wine is considered sinful to some (not me of course!)?!

As for the rest, I found this quote from British etymologist (someone who studies words) and writer Michael Quinon…

“Most seem to have been fanciful creations, dreamed up by a person or persons unknown on the basis of the biblical associations of jeroboam.” He goes on to say “We know very little about the ‘how’ and the ‘why’, and nothing at all about the ‘who.’”




The wine commentator Rupert Millar, writing at the website, agrees with Quinion that Jeroboam was the original biblical king to lend his name to a wine bottle and that the other biblical names were imitations of this, probably humorously intended. 

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines a jeroboam as “a large bowl or goblet” or “very large bottle of wine.” It states that it derives from its biblical namesake because he is described by the book of Kings as “a mighty man of valor who made Israel to sin.”

However, an article I found in Jewish magazine “Mosaic” argues that “if physical size, strength, or courage had anything to do with it, wouldn’t it have been more natural to call a jeroboam a samson, goliath, achilles, atlas, or hercules?”

The same article then goes onto suggest that the origins may lie in the word “jorum”, which according to the OED is “a large drinking bowl or vessel.” And although its origin was given as “uncertain,” the OED added that “it has been conjectured to be the same as the name of Joram, who ‘brought with him vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and vessels of brass’ (2 Samuel 8:10). Cf. JEROBOAM.”

Unlike Jeroboam, the figure of Joram, whose father To’i sent expensive vessels with him as a gift to their ally David, at least has a connection to “drinking bowls”.

The article suggests the following reconstruction of events:

  1. There was an English word “jorum,” older than “jeroboam,” that denoted a large drinking bowl.
  2. This word was, rightly or wrongly but not unreasonably, taken to come from the name of the biblical character of Joram.
  3. Sometime in the 18th century, someone who had some biblical knowledge took the name of Jeroboam, which bore a resemblance to Joram, and applied it to such a bowl, too, or perhaps to an even larger one.
  4. In time, “jeroboam” began to denote not only a very large bowl but also a very large bottle and, eventually, a bottle of three liters.
  5. Once a three-liter bottle was called a jeroboam, the way was open to giving biblical names—the more arcane and amusing-sounding, the better—to other-sized bottles as well; hence the rehoboams, methuselahs, and melchizedeks.



If you’re still with me, I also found a couple of other suggestions about the origins of some of the names…

  • The methusaleh is named after a Jewish patriarch who was said to have lived nearly a thousand years. This might be a playful statement on the aging potential for a wine in a bottle that big.
  • Balthazar was a Babylonian king who drank some wine out of holy chalices from a temple, and incurred God’s wrath. While Balthazar was partying, the Persians invaded and the Babylonians lost power. This might be a reminder of what can unravel as you’re getting to the bottom of a bottle that big.
  • For the Goliath, even if the name was not in use, it would still be a fitting adjective for a bottle that holds a whopping 36 standard bottles of wine!


So, as I said… no one really knows!


Breaking news!

Do you like the idea of being able to get your hands on a bigger bottle of Rob’s wine? In particular his Shiraz?

A little bird tells me that he’s thinking about including a few Magnums and Jeroboams when he bottles the 2018 Somerled Shiraz towards the end of the year!

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