Bottle Sizes

Type Capacity Number of bottles
Quarter (not illustrated) 18.75 cl 1/4
Half-Bottle 37.5 cl 1/2
Bottle 75 cl 1
Magnum 1.5 l 2
Jeroboam 3 l 4
Rehoboam 4.5 l 6
Methuselah 6 l 8
Salmanazar 9 l 12
Balthazar 12 l 16
Nebuchadnezzar 15 l 20

Magnum (TV private detective, 1980’s).
Jeroboam (Founder and first king of Israel, 931-910 BC)
Rehoboam, son of Solomon (King of Judah, 922-908 BC)
Methuselah (Biblical patriarch who lived to the age of 969)
Salmanazar (King of Assyria, 859-824 BC)
Balthazar (Regent of Babylon, son of Nabonide, 539BC)
Nebuchadnezzar (King of Babylon, 605-562 BC).
A useful mnemonic for these big bottle sizes is:

My Judy Really Makes Splendid Belching Noises

There are occasionally exceptions to these standard bottle types. Sometimes bottles of different sizes and shapes are used for special occasions or for special cuvées. For example, Pol Roger made a 20 fluid ounce/ 60cl. bottle (imperial pint) specially for Sir Winston Churchill, which his manservant brought him each morning at 11 am. Extremely rare is the 18 litre, 24 bottle Solomon (Salomon in French), and even rarer is the gigantic 27 litre, 36 bottle Primat (pronounced “preemah”), which weighs in at 65 kilos!
Big bottles have a novelty value, but because of the difficulty in moving such a large mass for riddling and disgorgement (a full Nebuchadnezzar weighs 38 kilos!), in most houses the secondary fermentation is carried out in magnums. The wine is then decanted into the larger bottles. This inevitably results in a loss of pressure. Some would say that there is a chance of more oxidation as a result of this, and that Champagne from a giant bottle is inferior to that from the magnum it was fermented in.

Michel Drappier with a 36-bottle Primat
Michel Drappier with a 36-bottle Primat. Did he break his arm trying to disgorge it?
A notable exception to this practice is the house of Drappier, who are very much the big bottle specialists. They carry out bottle fermentation in even the very largest sized bottles. Imagine riddling and disgorging a Primat by hand! Michel Drappier tells me that an empty Primat bottle costs around £400! They have to be specially made, and also pressure tested so as to withstand more than 90lbs. per sq. inch (6 bar).

For some more information about large bottle sizes used for other wines check out: Giantbottles.com and Onvine