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Should You Buy Wine in Big Bottles?

Is bigger really better? Here's what you need to know.

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Wine today, we have more options than ever before: not just in terms of wine varieties and brands, but also with different bottle sizes. Should you go for a 'split'- that is, a tiny bottle holding a single glass -- or a can or box? What about a half bottle? Should you stick with the standard 750ml bottle or go BIG?


Wine bottle sizes go all the way up to 15 liters (the equivalent of 20 standard bottles!), and each bottle size has a fun name. You could pop for a Methuselah (6L), a Salmanazar (9L), or a Nebuchadnezzar (15L) ... but by far the most common is the magnum, weighing in at 1.5L (or the equivalent of 2 bottles). And there are no shortage of great wine options available in magnums.


While a Balthazar might be out of your (and my budget), should we all be buying magnums, especially if we're hosting a group of wine lovers? Here's what you should know before you hit the wine shop.


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1. Wine in big bottles stays fresher longer

This is to do with the effect of oxygen on wine. The more oxygen a wine comes in contact with, the more quickly it ages and develops; at some point it hits a peak; then it starts to decline -- sometimes developing a vinegar-like flavor but more often just tasting flat or stale. The good news is that the oxygen-to-wine ratio goes down the bigger your bottle size is: in the case of a magnum, the same amount of oxygen is in the neck of the bottle but with twice the amount of wine, essentially aging at half the rate of a standard bottle! For collectors, this is the biggest advantage of big bottles: ageability. You can cellar them for much longer.

Even if you don't have a wine cellar with a bottles meant to age, fresher wine is definitely preferred especially when it comes to light whites and rosé.

2. Big bottles are special and impressive

Magnums are the perfect size for a group gathering. Rather than having 2 bottles on hand, one magnum is a splashy way to impress! And you'll be surprised how fast it disappears.

If you're ever having a tough time choosing wine for a dinner party, I can promise from personal experience that once you uncork a magnum, guests truly enjoy the sheer spectacle that big bottles provide ... so much so that they practically don't care what's actually in the bottle. It's a fantastic, memorable drinking experience. If it's awkward to serve and pour from such a heavy container, simply pour the wine into several decanters after you've done the big reveal. (The decanters make the whole experience even more special!)


3. But not necessarily cheaper

Buying in bulk generally means savings but not necessarily when it comes to large bottles.

A magnum or larger bottle may even be more expensive than buying the equivalent volume in standard size bottles. This is partially due to supply and demand: since larger bottles are more special and rare and fewer are made, wine brands can charge a premium. And the bottles themselves are more difficult to produce -- as Hortense Bernard, GM of Bordeaux-based luxury fine wine retailer Millesima explains: "The larger the more complicated. It is harder to produce the glass bottle because you have to fill them manually and there could be some breakage while bottling. For all those reasons, large format bottles are more expensive."


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4. The demand for big bottles has never been higher

Are your friends and neighbors buying wine in magnums? Bernard says: "I see a big trend towards large format in general. Our most successful sales last year were definitely our large format bottles. People love the larger format - we sell more and more 12L and 15L bottles. We even sold a 27L bottle of champagne the other day! I think that everyone loves the uniqueness. You will never forget a wine that you drink in a large format because it leaves you with a special impression."