Wines Great and Small

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Photography by Cordero Studios Styling by Alicia Buszczak

Moving beyond the 750 ml bottle, celebrated vintages range from splits to Melchiors. 

There is an old saying that everything is better in magnum. Certainly that is true of wine. But magnums, or 1.5-liter bottles, are not the only size with advantages. The half bottle, for instance, is one of the great wine formats, for two occasions in particular: when one craves just a glass of wine and opening a whole bottle will lead to either waste or feeling compelled to finish it (which might not be wise for early next-day appointments), and when one plans to have a glass of both white and red with a meal. It also makes for the perfect stocking stuffer. 

The main advantage ascribed to larger formats is longevity, which is of particular value to collectors. Large bottles, especially those 3 liters and greater, slow down the aging process. Oxidation is both the friend and foe of wine. In the beginning it is a friend; as a bottle rests on its side, oxygen slowly seeps in through the cork and ages the liquid within. With a bigger bottle, there is a cork of the same size, but with a greater volume of wine, that oxidation is an even slower, smoother process. 

Champagnes are especially wonderful in a larger format: There is a bigger bottle spray when the cork is popped and still plenty left to drink. The only difference with Champagne is that the bubbles reduce over time, so in a 40-year-old Champagne there may be only a slight effervescence. 

The other, more fun advantage of larger bottles is that they are the ideal party format. Something unique happens when you bring out a 5-liter or larger bottle—the wow factor is genuine. And there is something about sharing out of the same bottle that brings a togetherness that just can’t be achieved by serving single bottles. When each guest is tasting the exact same wine in his or her glass, it unites everyone and adds an extra dimension to the gathering.