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.
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.