If you’ll excuse the banal title I’ve chosen for this post (because surely, I’m not the first person to make reference to such things in this context), I wanted to have a brief discussion about large format bottles.
You’ve probably seen your fair share of big bottles out there, either tucked into wooden boxes or propped up on mantlepieces for show. Maybe you came to our holiday shindig last year, where Jake and Stephen popped corks on everything from the 2003 Red Winery to the 2006 Pyramid, all in large format. Maybe someone gave you a big bottle of something for a birthday or holiday, and you stuck it in your closet thinking, “Okay, well, I have no idea what the hell to do with that.” Maybe, just maybe, you’ve even gone to a restaurant that’s smart enough to have large format on the wine list (and maybe, just maybe, you and your group of many people with similar wine tastes made the smart decision to order one of these bottles).
Whatever the context you know large format in, you may or may not know one of the coolest things about them. It’s the reason Jake and Stephen make sure that all our reds each year are bottled in both 1.5-liter bottles (magnums) and 3-liter bottles (double magnums or Jeroboams, depending on which part of France you’re in. Yes, really. Don’t tell me you’re surprised). The reason is this: in general, when cellared properly alongside regular-format bottles (750mL), large-format bottles, and Magnums in particular, age better, more consistently, and for longer periods of time. So basically, what this means for the serious wine collecter, if you really want to age something to its fullest potential, you should probably buy a magnum of it.
The reason for this phenomenon is pretty simple: 750mLs and Magnums have a neck that is the same size in diameter, so they generally have the same headspace (or ullage, as we learned in my old-bottle-drinking post from September). But obviously, being twice the volume, the ratio of wine to that airspace is increased, so oxidation is slowed. Temperature fluctuations are less dramatic in larger volumes, so the potential for damage due to heat or cold is decreased. For parties, holidays, or even just a dinner with a larger group of friends, large-format bottles can be a better value simply because the cost of two or four equivalent bottles (particularly if you’re eating out at a restaurant) is usually more than the cost of one in larger format. Plus, they’re just fun. Wine is meant to be shared, and the more the merrier.
Now, you might think that if bigger is better, extra-large jumbo, venti, super-sized bottles are best. A word of caution there, something I learned when I was reading up on Champagne and the méthode champenoise:
If you’re entertaining, you should know that the ideal bottle size for Champagne is the magnum, which is equivalent to two bottles. The larger bottle enables the wine to age more gently in the winery’s cellar. Magnums (or sometimes double magnums) are usually the largest bottles in which Champagne is fermented; all really large bottles have had finished Champagne poured into them, and the wine is therefore not as fresh as it is in a magnum or a regular bottle. (Wine For Dummies, 284)
Keep that in mind if you’re buying large bottles for aging, you should make sure that the wine went directly into them, as opposed to being aged in regular-format bottles, then used to custom-fill a Balthazar.
Jake and Stephen bottle our Merlot and our Cabs in magnums and double-magnums every vintage in limited quantities. Obviously, they make great gifts, and there is a gift-giving, economy-stimulating holiday coming up in about a month’s time, but for the wine collector out there, everyone knows the 2007 vintage is one of the best from Alexander Valley in recent years. Its remarkable balance means the Cabs from this vintage should age for upwards of ten years—and large formats even longer. So if you’re feeling like rounding out your collection, you can let us know at the tasting room, and we’ll make sure it happens.