Why do large-format wine bottles have Biblical names?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

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

More In Dr. Vinny

How do you soften a hard cork?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what happens after a wine bottle is opened, and …

Jan 24, 2023

How long can Champagne be stored in a wine cooler?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what happens as sparkling wine ages, how long it …

Jan 17, 2023

I shook a bottle of wine with sediment and now it's cloudy. Is it ruined?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains where sediment comes from, and what to do if …

Jan 9, 2023

Can a cork-tainted bottle of wine cross-contaminate other bottles in my cellar?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how and when cork taint or TCA contamination …

Jan 3, 2023

Dr. Vinny’s Wine Care Clinic: Top Tips for Safekeeping Your Wine Bottles

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny answers all your wine storage and serving questions!

Dec 27, 2022

Can you cook with non-alcoholic wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the benefits of cooking with wine, and shares …

Dec 19, 2022