There are many theories about how we arrived at 750 milliliters as the standard size for a wine bottle. Some say that the basic size dates from the old British flagon which was about the same size. A fanciful theory is that back when bottles were hand-blown, 750ml was the amount of air a glass blower held in a single breath. In the US, the old Imperial Fifth (one fifth of one gallon) is almost the same.
Regardless of the origin, 750ml has become the standard size for a bottle of wine (or a bottle of spirits for that matter). But there are a host of alternatives available from select stockists and more reputable restaurants.
One common alternative to the standard is called a split. Splits are 375ml bottles. I always keep a few splits around the house for when I’m not in the market for a full bottle. A few restaurants offer a small range of splits which come in handy when you’re dining alone and only want two glasses but want something other than what is on offer by the glass. One advantage of splits is that they age quicker than larger bottles, giving a sneak preview of fine wines that require aging but normally come in larger formats like 750s and Magnums.
Double-size 1.5-liter bottles are called Magnums. Normally in this market Magnums are reserved for large bottles of fine wine. Only five percent of wine is made by design to last more than a few years. Magnums allow these long-lived, exclusive wines to age gracefully and slowly. There are a few quick-drinking magnums out there, and these are fun, even for the average consumer to make a big smash at a small gathering.
Bag-in-box wine (normally three liters) is the source of much discussion. At the end of the day, the issue with BIB is not with the container but the contents. It is true that a lot of rot gut finds its way into slick-printed boxes, but it’s not only cooking quality swill that ends up there. I suggest that you look for one in an air-conditioned shop managed by a meticulous merchant. Exposure to heat and temperature changes negatively affect box wines just as they affect bottles. However the huge advantage to BIB (in addition to generally lower prices) is that the one-way spigot can dispense fresh wine over a period of months, as opposed to a bottle, which should be consumed within a few hours of opening, as it will spoil from exposure to oxygen.
Michael Kloster is an independent hospitality consultant with more than 20 years experience. He can be reached with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org