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Why Do Large Wine Bottles Have Biblical Names?

The official term for a wine lover is an "oenophile," but if that word seems like a mouthful, try dropping "jeroboam,” "methuselah," "salmanazar," or "nebuchadnezzar" at your next wine-tasting. You might get a dry look from those around you, but you've got royalty to fall back on. All of those terms -- and more -- define sizes of wine bottles, and they all have their origins in the names of biblical figures, mainly kings. For example, biblical tradition holds that Balthazar was a king of Arabia and one of the three magi who brought gifts to baby Jesus. In the wine world, a balthazar is a 12-liter container. How these pairings came about -- what links kings of the Bible to wine bottles -- is anyone's guess, and theories abound. Some historians suggest that a king long ago lent his name to a wine amount, and others followed -- sometimes simply for fun. Today, the dizzying array of names doesn't typically come into play, but they certainly could add some spice to a dinner conversation.

The word on wine:

  • Italy is the world's biggest wine producer, but Americans are the biggest wine drinkers.

  • The oldest extant bottle of wine dates from AD 350 and can be viewed in a German museum.

  • England's Prince Charles owns an Aston Martin that in 2008 he had converted to run on biofuel made from wine.

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More Info: Mosaic magazine

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