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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bottles in France. The names, shapes and sizes.

Behind the French menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated October 2017

Different bottles shapes and sizes.
Bouteilles – Bottles.    French wine bottles in use today have a history reaching back 300 years; some even longer.  However, until the end of the 19th-century wine was traditionally sold in barrels, even for the aristocracy. Only the finest wines would be sold in bottles and they were hand-made blown glass bottles The masses would go to the wine merchant and have their own ceramic containers filled. A regular wine bottle today in France and most other countries is 750ml, three-quarters of a liter.

The first drinks for the masses with a glass bottle and a cork stopper were lemon and orange drinks.  That is the reason for the name for the most popular French corkscrew being called a limonadier. The limonadier is still today the only corkscrew used by any self-respecting French sommelier or server. A regular corkscrew in French is a tire-bouchon. 

A Limonadier.
The English speaking world along with other traditions have their own odd bottle shapes. Many are still used without any reference to the metric system, especially in the USA.  This post came about from my travels in France.  I could never remember the difference between French bottle sizes from one day to the next and so I made myself a list.  That list may help you when traveling. N.B.: At the end of this post are some USA and UK liquid measurements for comparison. For information on the change of wine labels in France to AOC, IGP and Vins de France click here
French wine bottle names and sizes.
The styles used for the bottles in the various French wine groups have been copied all over the world. Wherever you travel France’s traditional wine bottle sizes and shapes will be immediately recognizable. Despite that, it is true that some changes have been made in the last 100 years. One change reduced standard French bottle sizes from 800ml to 750 ml. Other changes are practically invisible. These were changes under the bottles to adapt traditional bottles to the needs of modern automatic bottling machines. Standard wine bottles around the world have copied the French standard of 750ml. This size is also used for the regular sized bottles of Sherry, Port and Madeira wines.
French bottles are listed here sometimes by shape and sometimes by size.
The standard wine bottle size in France and other wine growing countries, including the New World and Australia and China, is 750ml.     Un Litre is French for one liter. That is 1000ml, milliliters; 100cl, centiliters;  33.80 fluid ounces. 
Quart Bouteille  Un Quart  - A quarter of a regular bottle. This bottle size is only used in France for Champagne. The contents are one-quarter of a standard 750 ml wine bottle; that is 187.5 ml.  N.B.: In the USA, this champagne bottle is called a split. That is 6.3 fluid ounces. However, quarts in the UK and the USA are different sizes.  In the USA, a quart is 950ml and in the UK an Imperial quart is 1.14 liters.
Anjou – The Anjou bottle is used for Anjou wines from the Pays de Loire. The Anjou bottles look somewhat like thin Champagne bottles.  Anjou wines do not need the thick glass that Champagne bottles do and the bottles contain the same 750 ml as other wine bottles. The half bottle size for Anjou wines are called a Fillette d’Anjou and holds the standard 375 ml like all other half bottles.Anjou is now mostly within the department of Maine-et-Loire region of  Pays de la Loire. For more about dining in Anjou and the Maine-et-Loire click here.
Armagnac - Armagnac bottles come in a wide variety of shapes.  Whatever the shape, the standard Armagnac bottles hold 700ml; that is less than a standard wine bottle that holds 750ml. However, some Armagnac bottles in the duty-free will hold 1 liter. Armagnac was the first French grape brandy and its origins date to the 14th century; the names honors the Dukes of Armagnac, The old province or Armagnac is now included in Aquitaine and covers parts of the departments of Gers, Landes and Lot-et-Garonne.  Visit the English language Armagnac website: For more about the new wine labels In France click here.
Bordeaux – Bordeaux. The standard “high shouldered”  Bordeaux wine bottle holds 750 ml.(three-quarters of a liter). Staying with that French tradition the New World Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots and USA Meritage blends use this shape.
Four Bordeaux wine bottles.
 Bourgogne – This is the standard Burgundy wine bottle and holds 750 ml. These are "slope-shouldered" bottles and one look easily sets them apart from the bottles used for Bordeaux wines. These are the bottles used for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and outside of France used for similar wines.  For more about Bordeaux and dishes à la Bordelaise click here                                          
A Burgundy slope-shouldered wine bottle.
Calvados – Calvados the French apple brandies' bottles come in an unusual variety of shapes;  as do Cognac and Armagnac. The standard size is 700 ml; however, the duty-free may sell 1-liter bottles. Calvados with its three separately named and differently made AOC brandies will have their own post.
 Carafe – A carafe; a pottery or glass jug. Most carafes come, by tradition, without handles and may be used for wine or water. There is no legal size for carafes and they come in many interesting shapes and sizes. In most French cafes and small restaurants, you will see ceramic, steel or glass carafes built to hold a quarter, a half or a whole liter of the house wine. (See Pot and Pichet). A carafon is a small carafe,
 Clavelin - A unique 620ml  bottle. It is used for the Vin Jaune de Jura, the unique yellow wine of the Jura This wine comes from the French department of Jura in the region of Franche-Comté. The Clavelin was once known as the Anglaise, the English, bottle and then it contained 650 ml. Why it changed to 620ml and why it is now called the Clavelin and why it was originally called the Anglaise, no one, that I have asked, knows.    The Vin Jaune de Jura is a wine aged for a minimum of 6 years and 3 months under a natural yeast covering. When served the wine has a taste somewhat similar to a Verdelho Madeira or a Sherry wine. However, Madeira and Sherry wines have entirely different production methods to those of the Vin Jaune.  For more about Madeira wines click here.
The Calvelin bottle of 620ml use for the Vin Jaune.
Cognac  –  As with Armagnac and Calvados, the Cognac bottles come in an incredible range of shapes, sizes, and colors. The duty-free may be selling 1-liter bottles, but locally it is still 700 ml. I have four posts on Cognac because, as with Armagnac,  there is much confusion over the ages, crus, and tastes etc.  To begin with a post on visiting the town of Cognac click here. This post has links to other Cognac posts.
The Hine Cognac bottle and glass decanter created for their centenary by Baccarat
Demi-bouteille - A half-bottle called a fillette in Bordeaux and Anjou.  This contains 375 ml, half of a standard 750 ml bottle.
Double-magnum –  See Marie-Jeanne
Fiasco – This is a round-bottomed Italian bottle that gave the English language another word for a disaster. The first attempts at exporting wine in these round-bottomed bottles with just a  little padding were unsuccessful. The bottles could not be stacked safely.. A puddle and a load of broken glass in the shipping case was often all that was left to advise the purchaser of the arrival of another shipment of fiascos.
 Later the use of straw wrapping solved the breakage problem, and that was responsible for all those lovely straw wrapped Chianti bottles. Today, most of the straw wrapped Chianti bottles, no longer use round-bottomed bottles. However, when you do find one of  the original fiasco bottles it will be rarer than the straw covering.  The origin of the name fiasco is interesting as different types of bottle-free fiascos are encountered from time to time. Unfortunately, some of these national or international fiascos are doing very well.
A fiasco bottle with a straw frame.
Fillette –  The name for a half bottle or 375 ml bottle of  wine  from Bordeaux and Anjou.  They are just down-sized versions of the regular Anjou wine bottles.
An Anjou red in the traditional thin Champagne style bottle.
 Flute – These, seemingly thin, bottles hold the standard 750 ml for a bottle of wine. These are the bottles used for most of the Alsace wines. In the New World, this tradition has been adopted, and wines using grapes that are considered Alsatian use the same shaped bottles.   The shape was taken by the French from the German winery tradition. In Germany, this is the Hoch bottle and will use green glass for Mosel wines and brown glass for wines close to the Rhine.
A Trimbach Reisling from the Alsace
in the traditional flute shaped bottle.
Mignonette An old French bottle made in sizes varying from 4 ml to 10 ml. Originally these were personal traveling bottles; an early hip bottle. Then, as now, they all had different shapes and sizes; some were metal and some were glass. Today antique Mignonette bottles are collector’s items. New and interestingly designed Mignonette bottles are still being made today.  They are sold with an assortment of differently flavored eau-de-vies, brandies.  If you like their different shapes you may begin, inexpensively, to collect the new Mignonette bottles.
 Pichet – In parts of France, and also in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, this may be a pitcher, a jug or a carafe.

Pot A jar or jug or a type of carafe.  When a pot is on a wine list or a menu it generally indicates a traditional carafe of wine from the Beaujolais area of Burgundy. Those pots hold 460 ml, just under half a liter. Elsewhere, in France, a pot has a similar usage to its English meaning when not used in connection with wine from Burgundy.  A pot, therefore, may be any small container and it may be on your menu if it is used for serving.

Magnum –  A bottle size not the gun.  This is the name for a double-sized bottle of Bordeaux wines and Champagne. Both bottles contain 1.5 liters and keep their respective traditional shapes.
Champagne bottle sizes.
The smallest size pictured here is a six bottle size Jeroboam, then an eight
Photographed at a visit  Moet & Chandon Champagne, Epernay, France.
Tappit-Hen –  A unique 3-bottle size; that is 2.25 liters. In France, this is only used for port, which in any case comes from Portugal. It was and possibly still is used for whiskey in Scotland as apparently the name is Scottish in origin. The name, apparently, means a hen with a topknot and refers to the design on the top of a whiskey flask. What a hen with a topknot has to do with port served in France will require a great deal of extra research. Who knows the real origin of this French usage?
Marie-Jeanne or Double Magnum– A 2.25 liter or the 3-bottle size for Bordeaux wines only.  Other wines also use a 2.25 liter or 3 bottles called the Jéroboam.
Jéroboam bottles I –  The Jeroboam used for Champagne, for Port and Burgundy; they all hold the same 2.25 liters,  three bottle size, like a Marie-Jeanne from Bordeaux.  These bottles all keep their traditional shapes. For more about Champagne wines click here.
Jeroboam bottles II  -To complicate matters, a Jéroboam, is also the used for a 4.5-liter, a 6 bottle size used for Bordeaux wines.  I have no idea why the same name is used for different sizes and after checking around no one seems to care too much either.   The Jeroboam bottle for Bordeaux wines still maintains the traditional high-shouldered shape; however, as noted in the previously, it holds the equivalent of six regular bottles, that’s 4.5 liters of a Bordeaux wine.   Other 4.5-liter bottles are made with the name Rehoboam.
 Jéroboam – Jeroboam, the man.  Jeroboam gave his name to the Champagne and Port six bottle size was a son of King Soloman.  He was a would be revolutionary who became King of Israel when the Kingdom of  Israel split into two in the 10th Century BCE. The division came following the death of King Solomon.  The war created the Southern Kingdom of Judah led by Rehoboam with ten tribes and the Northern Kingdom of Israel led by Jeroboam with the remaining two tribes. The division would last for over two hundred years.  At that time wine, though not champagne, was plentiful. However, barrels had not yet been created. The information on the standard amphora size that King Jeroboam preferred is now scanty.  

Is this is the type of amphora used by Jeroboam?
Amphora found in the "Burnt House" in Jerusalem., Israel.
Mathusalem – Methuselah; this bottle holds six liters, the contents of eight regular bottles. Both Champagne and Burgundy use this size.
Mathusalem – Methuselah; the descendant of Seth; the son of Enoch and the grandfather of Noah. He was the grandson who built the big boat. Noah not only built the ark, but was the first person in the Bible to be recorded as a drunk!  Noah may have drunk six liters of a local wine?  According to the records Methuselah died, quite unexpectedly, I am sure, of old age, at 969.  I imagine that those who wrote that part of the story must have had unlimited  access to Methuselah’s wine cellar.
Imperial – This is a bottle uniquely used for Bordeaux wines. It holds the contents of eight regular bottles. This is what you need when are very wealthy and wish to impress your friends.  This is a 6.0 liter sized bottle. Champagne and Burgundy each have the same named bottles, but they are made in their different traditional shapes. Each bottle holds the equivalent of eight regular wine bottles.
Réhoboam – Rehoboam the man. Rehoboam the king. a son of King Solomon and the last King of the United Kingdom of Israel that included the twelve tribes of Israel. Twelve tribes broke apart and, ten tribes took Rehoboam as the King of Judah.
Salmanazar -  Salmanezah or Shalmaneser; this is a Champagne bottle size that holds the contents of twelve regular bottles, a mere nine liters.
Salmaneza, the man. Salmaneza was King of Assyria around 859-824 BCE. 
Balthazar – Balthazar; a Champagne bottle size that holds the contents of sixteen normal bottles that is 12 liters.
 Balthazar, the man. Balthazar was the King of Babylon around 539 BCE.
Nabuchodonoso– Nebuchadnezzar; a Champagne bottle size that holds the contents of twenty regular bottles, 15 liters. A single bottle of Nebuchadnezzar weighs 38 kilos; a crate of 12 will weigh 456 kilos without the packing!  You may order it online and have it delivered by Fed-Ex overnight.
Nebuchadnezzar, the man. Nebuchadnezzar was the King of Babylon around 605-562 BCE.
Salomon – Solomon; the Champagne bottle size that holds the contents of twenty-four regular bottles that’s 20 liters. How does one get these large size bottles into the fridge? 
King Solomon, the man.  King Soloman of Israel built the first Temple in Jerusalem; he was the son of King David. Solomon was considered both the wisest of men as well as a lover of the Queen of Sheba.  King Solomon must really have loved the Queen of Sheba; plying her with crates of twenty-liter sized bottles of Champagne!   For more about Champagne, the wine. click here.
Sovereign – Sovereign; a rare Champagne bottle size that holds the contents of thirty-three and a third normal bottles, that’s twenty-five liters. Despite its name twenty-five liters is more than most sovereigns can consume on even the best of days.
Primat  – The Primate; the second largest Champagne bottle ever made. The Primat holds the contents of thirty-six regular bottles, 27 liters. It is made, in the traditional Champagne shape.  So far as I know, by only one Champagne House, Maison Drappier in Reims. 
A Primate is the Roman Catholic title for the leading archbishop of an area. Based on that  Maison Drappier notes on their website  they gave that name to this bottle to indicate the highest level of the French Roman Catholic church; that is the Primat des Gaulles, the head of the French Church. How many bottles they send the Cardinal every year is not disclosed.
Melchisédech -  The Melchizedek; the largest champagne bottle commercially available. That's 1.100meters tall (3.6 feet).. The Melchisédech holds the contents of 40 regular bottles, that’s 30 liters.  This bottle is a fairly new addition to the world of giant champagne bottles.

Melchizedek, the man. In the Bible Melchizedek  brought bread and wine to Abraham. However, Maison Drappier, on their website, has this  Melchisédech, as a King of Babylon. That is possible as within the various traditions, there are a number of the Melchizedeks.  Some Melchizedeks were good, some were bad. A word of warning; do not try and pack one of these bottles in your carry-on luggage when flying Easy Jet. One of these Melchisédech bottles; including the glass will weigh over 60 kilos.
The Melchisédech is, like the Primat, produced by Maison Drappier.  I imagine that a Melchizedek is what you get when you walk into Maison Drappier  and ask to buy a regular bottle of their Champagne.  Then a salesman or saleslady says “can we jumbo size that for you"  and you get a Mechizedek? That is about 3.000 Euros, plus the cost of shipping.
Some UK and USA bottle and other sizes
The English pint began as a standard size for a beer mug. Later that mug was used for a portion of small shellfish sold in the streets outside the pubs.  Freshly cooked shellfish were sold by traders and the agreed measure was the pub’s beer mugs.  They held a pint of beer and for buying when no scales were around a pint of shellfish. Still today a pint of milk honors those origins. That; despite the UK’s membership in the European Common Market. The use of the metric system for has been a UK law for over 50 years, yet the pint still remains a measure of beer. (The French "pinte" has a different history and size. If you order a pint of beer in France the measure you will receive is 500 cl, half a liter).
In a few traditional UK fishmongers, the cost of a pint of shrimps is still shown alongside the pound weights and the metric weights and costs.  The metric system has been the law in France since 1840 and in the UK for over 50 years; however, that doesn’t seem to bother anyone in the USA.  However; it should bother the people involved in educating the next generation. In1999  NASA lost a $125 million Mars Orbiter when it ran out of fuel. Two groups of scientists were using different measuring systems for the measurement of the fuel required!
A US Pint is 473ml, that is 16 fluid ounces and a UK pint is 588m. That is 20 fluid ounces.
A US quart is 0.95 liters, 32 fluid ounces; a UK quart is two UK pints, that is 1.176 liters or 40 fluid ounces.
A US Gallon is 3.50 liters, 128 fluid ounces; a UK  Imperial gallon is 4.55 liters, 154 fluid ounces.

Connected Posts:

The New French Wine Labels. What has changed in French wines? What is an AOP, an IGP and a Vin de France.

Behind the French Menu’s links include hundreds of words, names, and phrases that are seen on French menus. There are over 400 articles that include over 2,500 French dishes with English translations and explanations.  Just add the word, words or phrase that you are searching for to the words "Behind the French Menu" and search with Google.
Bryan G. Newman
Copyright 2010, 2015, 2017.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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