Why do large-format wine bottles have Biblical names?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Are there any interesting stories as to how and why the large-format bottles are given Biblical names?

—Rya B., Missoula, Mont.

Dear Rya,

Well, I've found a few interesting theories, but no definitive answer. For those of you who aren't familiar with large-format bottles—bigger than double-magnums—let me tell you that these bottles all have tough-to-spell, even-harder-to-pronounce names, such as jeroboam, rehoboam, methuselah, salmanazar, balthazar and nebuchadnezzar.

These bottle names mostly come from ancient kings of Israel, which may be a tribute to these historical figures (or a statement about the worth of the bottle of wine). But if you dig a little deeper, you'll find that these names are quite cleverly appropriate.

For example, the methusaleh, or 6-liter bottle (the equivalent of eight standard bottles), is named after a Jewish patriarch who was said to have lived nearly a thousand years, which might be a playful statement on the aging potential for a wine in a bottle that big.

Balthazar is the name for a 12-liter bottle, which is equivalent to 16 normal-size bottles. Sixteen! Balthazar was a Babylonian king who drank some wine out of holy chalices from a temple, and incurred God's wrath. While Balthazar was partying, the Persians invaded and the Babylonians lost power. This might be a reminder of what can unravel as you're getting to the bottom of a bottle that big.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny

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