Bigger is better in more ways than one.
Learn why from one of our long-time wine experts, Chris Rota, who has been with V. Sattui for over 25 years.
At the supermarket, we have all become accustomed to larger packaging and the psychology attached, such as “Jumbo Pack” or “Value Pack” or “Sharing Size”. Every potato or corn chip offers a package touting the moniker “Party Size”.
When it comes to the world of wine, nothing says party like Champagne, and producers have been marketing party sizes for over 150 years naming them after Biblical kings, such as Methuselah or Balthazar. The largest size would be a Nebuchadnezzar (20 Bottles) which was named after the King of Babylon. However, a few houses produced even larger sizes such as the Solomon and the mighty Melchizedek (40 bottles). I think the latter comes packed with a crane. By and large, when one of these monsters entered a room, guests would fall silent. That said, these massive bottles of sparkling were made specifically for show. No fermentation ever occurred in a monster bottle; rather, completed Champagne in 750ml bottles were carefully poured in and corked.
Besides looking impressive and creating great focal points in a cellar, bottles larger than 750ml actually store and age their contents better and longer. This dimension transcends by far “the life of the party”. It emphasizes the concept of placing a skin around a volume of wine, be it wood, steel, or glass, and it takes on its own life i.e., development and aging trajectory.
Perhaps it’s the ratio of oxygen in the ullage of a bottle (space between cork and fluid) and how it assimilates into the wine as well as how it reduces in the wine over time. Bottle aging is really a process of reduction in which molecular chains become longer, softening tannins, and creating complexity (read wisdom and grace). Depending on the quality of a given vintage, one can age 2 or 5 years, even a decade longer in larger vessels.
Here are the standard large formats wine packages:
Magnum 1.5 Liters 2 Bottles
Double Magnum 3 Liters 4 Bottles
Imperial 6 Liters 8 Bottles
Nebuchadnezzar 15 Liters 20 Bottles
Of all the bottle sizes, the Magnum performs the best over time, and nobody can really explain this phenomenon. It’s akin to how the best olives come from trees with multiple trunks. Nobody knows why, but that’s the way olive growers train their trees. I have personally experienced this and ironically it was at a party. V. Sattui Winery, where I have worked almost 25 years, throws the best parties in the Napa Valley. Unpretentious, yet filled with grace, style, food, and fun; these events are nothing short of magical. During this particular soiree, one of the venues of the evening was to feature library wines and I happened to be pouring a 2002 Suzanne’s Vineyard (now Vittorio’s Vineyard) Cabernet. It was a high point of the party and as fate would have it, we ran out at the height of the evening. As lines and disappointment continued to grow, I had to do something; so, I brought in some magnums of the same wine. The fruit was still very much intact yet highlighted in the backdrop of sophistication that can only come from age. It was utterly amazing, and it reminded me of the wedding feast of Cana where the steward said, “Why did we serve the best wine so late in the party?”
I suspect some ideas are fomenting here. Anytime you have an age-worthy wine that you intend to lay down, particularly from a stellar vintage, I think you should anchor that inventory with 4 to 6 magnums. This, of course, will extend your enjoyment of a favorite wine and/or vintage. When you are sharing one of those 750ml treasures with special friends and guests (i.e. those who know and appreciate wine) or when you and your guests are tasting through a vertical of vintages; do the following. Compare that gem with a magnum of the same wine as an eye (and palate) opener. Or select the best vintage of a vertical and punctuate the string years with that magnum. Be prepared for gasps and swoons.
Of course, a magnum of great wine will always dazzle a party. I recommend having decanters handy, as they are much easier to pour than the large bottles. Also, have the “Wine-of-the-Evening” magnum(s) on display for your guests’ anticipation of something special to soon be enjoyed. And if your occasion celebrates one of life’s precious hallmarks, consider using a large format bottle as the guest book at the reception. Enjoy the empty, signed bottle as a sentimental memento from the event for years to come.
Magnums by their sheer size, weight, and presence, make impressive gifts for the Holidays and beyond. Be sure to check out our specially curated collection of Anniversary Magnums sporting Cabernet from our flagship vineyards, stellar vintages, from ready to cellar (2018) to exquisitely aged and at the zenith of their trajectory. Great gifts and great savings – not a bad combination.
But there’s more. While the overt size catches attention, what’s inside engages appreciation at a whole new level. Ultimately the collective, social message implied is loud and clear…