Do you know your Big Bottle size Jeroboam from your Rehoboam?
Ok, as ridiculous as that question is, it is a great place to start this story about stories about names. Let’s move into with the measurement science related to these subjects. Jeroboam and Rehoboam are both names of wine bottles that hold 4.5 liters — six regular bottles. Rehoboam differs from Jeroboam in that it holds sparkling wine and therefore is typically stronger to withstand interior atmospheric pressure. By the way, the common American English spelling is “liter;” all other versions of English, such as British or Canadian, spell it “litre.”
Big Bottle Rehoboam differs from Jeroboam in that it holds sparkling wine and therefore is typically stronger to withstand interior atmospheric pressure.
Now, for the interesting part, which is the word origin and epistemology of these bottle sizes. Both are named for kings in the Bible, 1 Kings. They were rulers of Judah. Rehoboam was a son of Solomon. Jeroboam was once an official of Solomon’s.
Even the comparatively pedestrianly named Magnum has an interesting backstory. In 1788, Scot poet Robert Burns abbreviated the Latin term “magnum-bonum,” meaning a large good thing, which is employed for not only wine bottles but also for large potatoes, fruits, guns and even pens.
Jeroboam is another entertaining origin story as a take-off on the Bible’s description of this king as “a mighty man of valor,” who “made Israel to sin.” For a Big Bottle of wine that is enough said.
Balthazar and Melchior are connected because they are identified as two of the wine Magi who visited the manger. Balthazar may have been the Babylonian leader famed for seeing “the writing on the wall” at the feast, which gave rise to that expression.
Most of these bottle names originate form English or French literature or other writings of popular culture. Whatever the bottle or the name, the more interesting thing to me is that even deep research rarely gives a clue as to why they were connected and even who connected them.
Here is an official Big Jug Name Guide. The largest sizes refer only to champagne and are extremely rare — not least because it would be almost impossible to lift the bottles.
187.5 ml | Piccolo or Split | one-quarter standard bottle
375 ml | Demi or Half | half standard bottle
750 ml | Standard
1.5 L | Magnum | 2 standard bottles
3 L | Double Magnum | 4 standard bottles
4.5 L | Jeroboam | 6 standard bottles (sparkling, 3 liters)
4.5 L | Rehoboam | 6 standard bottles
6 L | Methuselah or Imperial | 8 standard bottles
9 L Salmanazar | 12 standard bottles, a full case
12 L Balthazar | 16 standard bottles
15 L | Nebuchadnezzar | 20 standard bottles
18 L | Melchior | 24 standard bottles
21 L | Solomon | 28 standard bottles
25 L | Sovereign | 33.3 standard bottles
27 L | Primat | 36 standard bottles
30 L | Melchizedek | 40 standard bottles