I was researching into the origin of the Champagne bottle names. Most sources tend to agree except for Balthazar; some sources mention the wise men and others a Regent of Babylon. I always assumed it was the first but the latter would make sense since most of the other names date to the ninth century BC. Anyone have conclusive evidence? Four different sources below.
Jeroboam (Founder and first king of Israel, 931-910 BC)Rehoboam, son of Solomon (King of Judah, 922-908 BC)Methuselah (Biblical patriarch who lived to the age of 969)Salmanazar (King of Assyria, 859-824 BC)Balthazar (Regent of Babylon, son of Nabonide, 539BC)Nebuchadnezzar (King of Babylon, 605-562 BC)
"Q From Belinda Hardman: How did
wine bottles get names such as Jeroboam, Rehoboam, Methuselah and
others? The ancient references of most of the names are obvious; the
“how?” and “why?” are not. How was the hierarchy by volume and name
determined? For how long does wine have to age for it to be called a
A I’m glad to be able to report that the age of the wine has no connection with these curious names, otherwise a methuselah
would have to be aged for 969 years. It’s one of a large set of names
for sizes of wine bottle. It’s now illegal to put any of them except one
on a bottle and they’ve become curiosities that mainly come up in pub
The only term of the set that’s still allowed is magnum, which
refers to a bottle containing two standard bottles or 1.5 litres. It’s
also the oldest of all the terms, having appeared in English in one of
the prose works of the Scots poet Robert Burns, back in 1788. It’s an
abbreviation of Latin magnum bonum, a large good thing. It was in Scotland that it acquired the sense of a size of wine bottle and became abbreviated to magnum.
It has also been given to a variety of potato, various varieties of
cooking plums, a gun, and even a large-barrelled steel pen.
The remainder of the set, as usually quoted in reference books, are jeroboam (4 bottles/3 litres), rehoboam (6/4.5), methuselah (8/6), salmanazar (12/9), balthazar (16/12), nebuchadnezzar (20/15), melchior (24/18), solomon (28/21), sovereign (33.3/25), and primat (36/27). Some lists include the melchizedek,
holding 40 standard bottles or 30 litres. The largest sizes refer only
to champagne and are extremely rare, not least because it would be
almost impossible to lift the bottles.
As you say, most of these are ancient, deriving from the names of kings mentioned in the Bible. Jeroboam,
for example, was a king of Israel. His name was first applied to a size
of wine bottle in a work by Sir Walter Scott (another Scotsman, you
will notice) and seems to have been a joke derived from the description
of Jeroboam in the first book of Kings as “a mighty man of valour” who
“made Israel to sin”.
The remainder date from much later. Rehoboam (a king of Judah and son of Solomon, also from the first book of Kings) appears in 1895. Nebuchadnezzar
(ruler of the Babylonian empire, the man with the famous hanging
gardens), turns up in a letter written by Aldous Huxley in 1916. Methuselah, salmanazar and balthazar are all listed for the first time in André Simon’s Dictionary of Wine
in 1935. Methuselah is the Old Testament patriarch; Salmanazar is more
properly Shalmaneser, a King of Assyria mentioned in the second book of
Kings; and Balthazar is assumed in dictionaries to be the king of
Babylon whom we know better as Belshazzar, the one who saw the writing
on the wall at his feast. However, he might instead be one of the three
wise man who with Melchior and Caspar in medieval legend attended the
birth of Jesus. I prefer the latter explanation, because Melchior is
another in the list.
Apart from magnum and jeroboam, few of these names have ever been used seriously. (The Oxford English Dictionary’s recent revision of its entry for melchior
doesn’t even include the wine sense.) They seem to have been fanciful
creations, dreamed up by a person or persons unknown on the basis of the
Biblical associations of jeroboam. My most diligent search has
been unable to find out anything at all about who named them. We’re not
even sure in some cases which language they first appeared in. My French
dictionaries say jeroboam and rehoboam were imported from
English into French at the end of the nineteenth century and in the
early twentieth century respectively. They also say that methuselah (as mathusalem) is not known in French as a name for a wine bottle size before the middle of the twentieth century and salmanazar not before 1964, which suggests that these, too, appeared first in English. But nebuchadnezzar is known as a bottle size in French (as nabuchodonosor) in 1897, before it appeared in English.
In summary, we know a very little about the “how” and the “why”, and
nothing at all about the “who”; just a hint to explain why the various
names were chosen for the different sizes."
Far out, thanks!