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Big wine is big business due to their ecxcellent cellaring potential | Source: Vinovest

Why Bigger is Better: Big Wine Bottles Are All the Rage at Auctions

Whether you’re an earthy shiraz sipper or a crisp chardonnay guzzler, a good bottle of wine can prove the difference between a dull dinner party and a stimulating evening soirée and a large format bottle can extend those good times.

The global market for wine was estimated to be A$437 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach a dizzying A$582 billion by 2027. And, according to the Global Wine Market Report 2021, in places like China, the market is set to grow 7.4 per cent year on year.

Recent auctions have seen sales of big wine bottles increase proving, that bigger is better when it comes to buying up wine. Big bottled wine is becoming something of a status symbol or essential centrepiece for momentous occasions like weddings and birthdays, but what about the wine in the bottle? In the wonderful world of fine wine, is bigger actually better?

The advantages of drinking your favourite vintage from a large bottle are many, the Magnum, Double Magnum, Salmanazar and Nebuchadnezzar sizes are all bigger than the Standard 750ml version you have already encountered and provide an excellent vessel in which your favourite vintage will age gracefully.

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Wineries often release limited edition large format wines so the vintage will age better | Source: Decanter

Big bottles have less air and cork area to the volume of wine, meaning there is far less chance of imperfections in the bottle developing and ruining the taste. The rate of oxidisation is also slower, meaning the flavour of the vintage will develop more complex and desirable profiles.

The glass of big bottled wine is also thicker, providing more protection from vibrations, sunlight and other, often transport-related complications.

The answer to why these large-format wines are so popular at auctions is a combination of this superior ageing potential and the fact that many wineries celebrating special vintages may only bottle and release a few Magnums of that year’s wine knowing that the cellaring potential and limited distribution will raise the value of the vintage.

Sotheby’s regularly auctions off fine wines from around the world and has recently seen a spike in sales of bigger bottles. Head of Sotheby’s wine and spirits, Jamie Ritchie suggests, “The market has continued to focus on [the] greatest and the rarest wines and spirits.”

Another reason for this popularity is a matter of simple economics. In the last few years, there has been a huge decrease in production due to the pandemic and other economic disruptions, therefore less supply from the premier wine regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Couple this reduced supply with the continuing demand for fine wine and the price for these vintages will increase, driven by strong sales at auctions like the Naples Winter Wine Festival and the Napa Valley Vintners’ Library Wine Auction.

Big bottles of wine age slower so the best vintages for opening and consuming now are different from your standard bottle of wine. It’s up to personal taste to how you like to age your wine. A trio of magnums from Napa Valley Winery Screaming Eagle sold for more than A$65,000 at auction in February this year.

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The 2016 vintage Screaming eagle magnums were sold for a total of just over A$65,000 at auction in February | Source: Sotheby’s

A magnum of Cabernet Sauvignon, The Flight and Sauvignon Blanc were all 2016 vintage, a highly desirable vintage that will cellar well and be ready for consumption after all the deliciousness of standard bottles in that vintage has matured out.

It is recommended for example that a standard bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon be aged 5 to 20 years before consumption. With the exact timing of opening within that range down to personal preference, generally, a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon will have overpowering tannins when young, which soften with age.

In big bottles, this ageing process is slowed down and the rate at which the process is slowed depends on the volume. So, a 5-year-old double magnum-sized French Chardonnay, containing 3L of wine, maybe in its prime in 15 to 20 years, as opposed to the 5 to 10 years it would take a standard 750 ml bottle to reach the same level of drinkability.

Wines to buy now in the large format bottle with the intention of cellaring will age very well and will be mature enough to display more complex flavour profiles after a standard bottle would, generally red wine ages for longer and develop better flavours, but large format bottles of white wine can also age well, depending on the variety.

Here are some younger large format bottles to cellar and if you can’t wait to get stuck into a well-aged wine, some that would taste delicious if consumed now.

2019 Scintilla Pinot Noir Magnum

It is advised that you serve this light, cloudy Pinot Noir chilled, to bring the cleanly crisp acidity to the fore, backed up by a hint of pepper and awash with unripe fruit, it will cellar extremely well, especially in a magnum but will probably start to show its age around the 6 to 7-year mark.

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2019 Scintilla Pinot Noir Magnum, A$74 | Source: Laneway Liquor

2020 Si Vintners “Baba Yaga” Rosé Magnum

Rosé is not generally cellared and this 2-year-old vintage would make an excellent celebratory opening right now, the Sauvignon Blanc Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic Rosé combination, producing a  textural and fresh palate with light citrus notes and a red berry, rose petal nose.

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2020 Si Vintners “Baba Yaga” Rosé Magnum, A$80 | Source: Notwasted

2009 Château Lafite Rothschild Magnum

This excellent blend of 2.5 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 7 per cent Merlot and Petit Verdot is sure to be enjoyed at any occasion, with a present nose of graphite, black currants, licorice and camphor and a full palate revealing the elegance and purity we have come to expect from a Lafite.

It is well on its way to developing some satin-soft tannins and this large-format bottle would respond well to anywhere from 20 to 50+ years of ageing.

2009 Château Lafite Rothschild Magnum, A$5092 | Source: Wineisuppose

Balthazar Champagne Taittinger Brut La Française

A spectacular accompaniment to seafood and white meat, this toasty, aperitif-style champagne has a creamy palate with an unexpected, albeit welcome smokiness.

This big bottle of champagne is perfect for a glamorous celebration, the Balthazar bottle, equal to 16 regular bottles is made for a momentous popping and then sharing with everyone at the party.

Balthazar Champagne Taittinger Brut La Française, A$2082 | Source D and M

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