Why are wine bottles named after old, dead, semitic men?
February 19, 2013 8:13 PM   Subscribe

Why are large-format wine bottles predominantly named after biblical figures (e.g. this reasonably comprehensive Wikipedia page)? The answer is not easily forthcoming on either the internet (although Google has been asked "why do wine bottles have biblical names?" before) or in my collection of food-studies books. Any ideas?
posted by scrim to Food & Drink (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Just digging around google books, I found multiple people who said the earliest recorded usage is the Jeroboam bottle in Bordeaux in 1725. No one knows why, but probably once that caught on, other people just followed the convention.
posted by empath at 8:36 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is hilarious, pretty much everything online traces back to a 'famous Champagnois poet named Eugene Destuche' and the theory goes that he was just being flowery with the Big Biblical Names. I can't find any Destuche manuscripts anywhere, but that might be a good lead?

Books on bottle identifying and history are mum on the matter, within my reach. Understanding Antique Wine Bottles by Dumbrell (1983) has a history of the wine bottle (with illustrations!) but doesn't go into size so much as shape.
posted by carsonb at 8:51 PM on February 19, 2013

It does not appear to be chronological (either historically or in Bible order.) From this link, http://www.winespectator.com/drvinny/show/id/5377 it seems like the names might be puns based on the king the bottle is named after.

I would guess there is some Biblical story reason for these names-- I am not familiar enough with the kings of Israel to help you out with that. I know Nebuchadnezzer was humbled by God for boasting, and Jeroboam made golden idles and was in turn humbled for that. Wine'll lead to some humbling, I daresay. Methuselah was very old-- so are some wines.

I am sincerely hoping that this is not an old-tyme anti-Semitic joke, which is always a possibility in 1725.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:57 PM on February 19, 2013

Dumbrell is also disappointingly Anglo-centric. =\
posted by carsonb at 8:58 PM on February 19, 2013

Best answer: Well, in Catholic historiography, Jeroboam was a symbol of kingly wickedness (having been responsible for the golden calves of lore), so it makes sense as a bit of mordant humor.

The 1725 claim attributing it to one Eugene Destuche (Destuché, perh.) traces back to this book and no other sources discuss this "champenois poet", either of the 18th century or the middle ages, so I'm raising my skeptic's pinky finger. There is literally nothing else of this purported poet anywhere online, in any language, and in none of the books compiled and scanned by Google which includes many older reference works.
posted by dhartung at 11:50 PM on February 19, 2013

Best answer: The OED cites Jeroboam as being used to refer to ‘a large bowl or goblet’ or ‘a very large wine-bottle’ with quotations from 1816 and 1825 exemplifying the former sense of the word. Rehoboam is illustrated with a quote from 1841: ‘She appeared, carrying a few glasses, whilst her cousin bore two large bottles, Rehoboam and Jeroboam.’ The etymology of Rehoboam hazards ‘probably after jeroboam. Compare later Methuselah, Salmanazar, Balthazar, etc.’—these other three terms are all given with earliest quotations from André Simon’s 1935 A Dictionary of Wine.

The French wikipedia article for Jéroboam (bouteille) claims it was invented in 1725 by Pierre Mitchell, a glass manufacturer of Anglo-Irish extraction.
posted by misteraitch at 4:11 AM on February 20, 2013

Response by poster: A true mystery! None of my wine importer buddies seem to know, either.
posted by scrim at 11:17 AM on February 21, 2013

My favorite reference librarian just handed me a printout of this PDF, which goes into some detail on the possible reasons for naming big bottles this way, including references to measurements and the specific meaning of each of the historical characters' names. She was my last resort, and the best Librarian I have access to.
posted by carsonb at 12:44 PM on February 21, 2013

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