Whenever I walk into a restaurant and I see those wine bottles arranged from small to big I always wonder what exactly the names and sizes are. I basically know just enough to get myself into trouble.
Luckily I stumbled onto this handy piece on the Wine Lovers Page:
Big bottles: What are their names?
Wine may go back many millennia to Bronze Age times, but the wine bottle as we know it today is only about three centuries old. It was only the development of the cork-stoppered, cylindrical glass bottle – which could be stacked on its side, keeping the cork airtight and wet – that permitted the development of age worthy wines that improve with cellaring.
The “fifth” bottle, originally one-fifth of a gallon, now rounded off metrically to 750 ml., was said to be a suitable ration for one man with dinner, back in the days when men were men (and most wine was quite low in alcoholic strength). One theory holds that this size bottle was actually the largest that early glass-blowers could produce with one full breath.
But even in those early days, for very special occasions, wineries would put up their product in impressive, oversize bottles. For reasons lost to history, most of these bottles were given the names of Biblical figures like the evil king Nebuchadnezzar and the long-lived Methuselah.