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Magnums and methuselahs: More than just big bottles

When you spot a wine magnum, or a jeroboam of champagne, you know a celebration lies ahead. But do bigger bottles mean better wine? And how should you serve them? Here are all the answers you need.

The science behind large formats

When you’re next stocking your cellar, it might be time to think a little bigger. Instead of adding a case of your favourite wine or champagne to your Clos19 shopping basket, try a Cloudy Bay magnum (1.5L), a Moët & Chandon methusela (6L), or even a nebuchadnezzar (15L) of Veuve Clicquot instead. Of course, these large format bottles look spectacular, but there’s also some science behind them, which proves they are worth the investment.

The bigger the bottle, the less contact the wine has with the air left the top of a bottle – and so, the more slowly and gracefully it will age. Wine from a larger bottle will show fresher aromas for longer, maintain more acidity and have more robust tannins than the same wine from a smaller bottle. It may take a little longer to reach its drinking window but when it does, the chances are that the flavours will be even more exceptional. So when you’re thinking ahead for celebrations to come, large formats are a great choice.

The art of opening magnums and more

If you’re planning on opening a magnum or something even larger, there are a few things you should consider. A big bottle contains more sediment. And to make sure that sinks to the bottom rather than making its way into a glass, it’s worth standing the bottle upright for 24 hours before serving.

To uncork anything larger than a magnum of wine – the equivalent of two standard bottles – you’ll also need to swap your corkscrew for a two-pronged wine opener. This is because larger bottles are stored upright. And as the wine inside can’t keep the cork moist in the usual way, their corks tend to be more brittle. The best technique is to slide the prongs in between the cork and the bottle and pull very slowly.

Perfecting your pour

There are definite techniques to pouring from a big bottle. For anything up to a jeroboam, get someone with enough muscle to lay the bottle along their forearm with the bottom touching the crease of the elbow. Very slowly, tip the arm with the bottle to pour the wine. For extra stability, place the other hand underneath the neck.

For bottles even larger than that (a methuselah of red wine or a balthazar (12L) perhaps), pouring is two-person job. But remember, too much tipping can stir up the sediment, so decanters may give you the best serve, allowing you to tip the bottle fewer times. And when it comes to the biggest bottles, you won’t want to tip them much at all. In fact, some wine-lovers siphon their wine into decanters with plastic tubing. A little more effort perhaps, but the results will be well worth it.


How well do you know your bottle sizes?

Standard bottle: 750mL

Magnum: 1.5L (two bottles)

Jeroboam: 3L (four bottles)

Methuselah: 6L (eight bottles)

Salmanazar: 9L (12 bottles)

Balthazar: 12L (16 bottles)

Nebuchadnezzar: 15L (20 bottles)