Nothing attests to a host’s generosity — both in the fiscal and spiritual senses — than a large bottle at the table. There is something both deeply civilized and insouciantly grand about serving wine in large format. It speaks of connoisseurship and kindness, of laughter, debate and merriment. Even the names are affecting: Jeroboam, Methuselah, Salmanazar, Nebuchadnezzar...‘Margaux in Melchior’ has a more romantic ring to it than ‘bottle,’ no?
The benefits of the big bottle do not begin and end with upping your profile as a host. Most wine lovers understand that wines bottled in magnum or larger almost always show better than those in smaller formats, due to slower aging which prolongs its lifespan. The reason is clearly visible: In every bottle of wine there is a small amount of oxygen between the cork and the wine, which is essential if the wine is intended to age and develop in bottle. In larger bottles, the proportion of wine that is exposed to oxygen in the air is smaller, which leads to a slower oxidative journey for the wine.
Larger bottles can carry a huge premium, so opportunities to acquire at auction should certainly be taken
Oxidation is the process which allows a great wine to take on the complex secondary characteristics that fascinate wine lovers. Within the lifespan of a bottle of wine, it has the potential to reach its peak. Wine lovers generally want this process to last as long as it possibly can. Even a good bottle of Mouton-Rothschild 1945 will now be showing a great deal of age, whereas a perfectly stored magnum or larger could still be fresh, structured and just approaching maturity, with many years ahead.
In addition to presentation and lifespan, there is a third important factor to consider when looking at large bottles. It is almost always the case that larger bottles are scarcer than their 750ml brethren. Every year when a property bottles their vintage they bottle their large formats judiciously and, generally speaking, the rarity ramps up as the bottle gets bigger. I’d challenge anyone to find me a Nebuchadnezzar of Lafite 1982 — if you can, I’ll bet it is transcendent. Depending on the wine, larger bottles can carry a huge premium, so opportunities to acquire at auction should certainly be taken.
Here are five of my top large format lots in Christie’s Wine Online auction, which is open for bidding until November 17.
Paulo Scavino Barolo Carobric 1998 (Lot 59)
Scavino is a superb producer of Nebbiolo, crafting elegant, powerful, long-lived wines. This double magnum should be pristinely fresh.
Dominus 1994 (Lot 70)
Dominus is one of the more tannic, structured ‘European’-style cult Californian wines. Known for its longevity, this double magnum should still need a decade of slow aging before it reaches its zenith.
Mouton-Rothschild 1986 (Lot 100)
Few wines have the depth of 1986 Mouton. As a contender for wine of the vintage, this icon is revered for its backward, muscular force. Offered here in magnum, these bottles will look regal on any table.
Le Pergole Torte 1997 (Lot 323)
Montevertine’s Le Pergole Torte is one of Italy’s greatest wines, and one of the purest, most noble expressions of Sangiovese the world has ever known. The blockbuster 1997 vintage is still heralded as one of the greats, and there’s no better way to give it the respect it deserves than serving it in this 6 liter format.
Diamond Creek Red Rock Terrace 2004 (Lot 332)
Diamond Creek makes some of the most graceful, understated Cabernet-based wines in America. Their blueprint was always Bordeaux and this shows in the nuanced, terroir-driven bottlings. Red Rock Terrace appears here in the extremely rare 9 liter format, just in time for the holidays.
Browse and bid on these large format lots and other excellent bottles of all sizes in Christie’s Wine Online auction, open for bidding until November 17.
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