Hell yes, size matters in the definitive Bubble & Flute guide to champagne bottle sizes because magnums rock!
There are actually 15 recognised Champagne bottle sizes starting from the Piccolo (a quarter of a standard bottle) up to the massive Melchizedek, which holds 30 litres which is about 240 glasses and 40 times the size of a standard bottle.
So is bigger better?
If you’re a rapper poppin’ bottles in a nightclub, of course bigger is always better.
But unless you’re buying a magnum or (maybe) a jeroboam, you’ve been had on the actual quality difference and you’re paying for the show.
Here’s why. Most champagne houses only ferment in bottle up to a magnum (or some a jeroboam). Any larger than that and the pressure in the bottle caused by the bubbles is too much and there’s a high risk the bottles will explode. So to fill the bottles over and above a jeroboam size, they (usually) decant champagne that was fermented in a standard bottle into your big arsed bottle. Feel a bit ripped off? I would!
So how is it the different champagne bottle sizes aren’t just for show and can actually taste better?
Most champagne snobs are quick to say champagne tastes better out of a magnum. I know I sure do. And while I know there are good reasons why it tastes better, I would be lying if I said I could actually taste the difference… I just think it’s much more fun drinking magnums! If you need convincing I really believe that, here’s a few of the big arsed bottles sitting in my collection waiting to be popped! The bottle of Bolly (2004 La Grande Annee) on the far right is a standard size… even the Magnum of Mumm Grand Cru looks tiny beside the jeroboams!
You would need an incredibly refined palate to detect the difference. And even if you have that, you would want to know the champagne has been stored correctly and is old enough to display significant age difference.
But if you wanted to impress the corks off someone, indulge me for a moment while I get my champagne nerd on and explain why magnums (and jeroboams to a lesser extent) are divine vessels for drinking champagne.
When size does matter… Magnums baby!
It comes back to the process for making champagne and how champagne undergoes secondary fermentation. Secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle you pour it from and is when it gets all its flavour and complexity. Read more about making champagne here in Parts One (Vine Time), Two (Grape juice into wine) and Three (Cellar to glass).
The real experts (the people who actually make the champagne) put it quite simply – the bigger the bottle, the longer the fermentation, and the more complexity in the wine, and less oxidation occurs.
- Autolysis works differently in magnums. Autolysis (read more about it here) is the breakdown of yeast by its own cells and these yeast cells (or lees) sit in contact with the wine to impart flavour and complexity. In magnums, autolysis takes longer (up to four weeks longer). Magnums have more glass surface area than standard bottles, so there is more contact between the lees sitting on the glass inside the bottle and the wine, which brings more roundness and much more complexity.
- There’s less oxidation in magnums so the champagne ages better. Magnums hold twice the amount of wine, but they actually have the same space between the bottom of the cork and the wine’s surface, which can be a source of trace oxygen after disgorgement. The same amount of oxygen exposed to a greater volume of wine reduces oxidation (which eventually turns wine into vinegar), and is the key difference in how the champagne better ages after disgorgement. It’s fresher but also more complex and intense from the autolysis.
Why the crazy biblical names for different champagne bottle sizes?
Melchisedek, Methuselah, Balthazar and Nebuchadnezzar?
Honestly, no one really knows. One theory is it could have been because (once upon a time) the bottle manufacturers were predominately Jewish but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of mystery is there?
Santé happy champers!
Make sure you post a pic and tag @bubbleandflute #bubbleandflute if you are popping a big-arsed bottle of champers and let me know what you think!
Bubble & Flute promotes the responsible consumption of alcohol for individuals of legal drinking age in their country.
Graphic image source https://www.champagne.fr/en/tasting-and-appreciation/choosing-a-champagne-wine/champagne-bottles