Sometimes a little dab just won't do ya. If you've got a thirsty mass of people to serve, less-than-ample 750-milliliter bottles can give any good host/hostess a wrist cramp. And sometimes you just want a better value. If you drink one regular bottle a day, then why not buy the 1.5-milliliter economy size and save a buck or two?
"But isn't all the stuff in big bottles complete swill?" you might ask.
Well, no. And, to muddle the issue, there are two grades of "large format" bottles: low-end ($10-$20) and high-end ($80-gazillion). High-end big bottles are perfect for aging. Red wine actually ages better and slower in big bottles due to volume, and thus they are highly prized in wine collectors' circles. Low-end large formats are simply for convenience. Like buying milk in gallons instead of quarts, some wineries bottle in big amounts so you don't have to fuss as much.
There are a series of cool names for large format bottles out there, defined by how many 750-milliliter bottles are contained in them: Magnum: two bottles; Jeroboam: four bottles; Rehoboam (rare): six bottles; Methuselah: eight bottles; Salmanazar: 12 bottles; Balthazar: 16 bottles; and Nebuchadnezzar: 20 bottles. Wine fanatics haven't lived until they've seen one of the mammoth bottles in person. Makes you want to dive in and live there.
But the really big ones are rarely available for sale except at wine auctions. So we'll focus on the low-end "one-point-fives" (winespeak) that float in our price range. Incidentally, the wine in the big bottles is the same wine as 750-milliliter bottles. No fear that they're filling the big jugs with wine mopped off the bottling floor.
American wineries have been drifting away from selling the one-point-fives in recent years, probably because of the negative jug wine image. But the Aussies have been producing, and selling, quite a few of the big boys. Even the French throw in a couple every now and again.
To deliver you, devoted readers, the best bang for your buck, I convened a panel of judges to serve as jug wine guinea pigs. No one knew they were judging jug wines since we poured the wine from 750-milliliter bottles and hid the labels. We subjected ourselves to some really nasty wine, but found a few gems. Now you can rest easy when you plunk down your dollars the next time you need a big gulp.
Yellow Tail 2001 Shiraz ($13) : This Aussie favorite of the tasting is friendly and fun with raspberry and cherry flavors. Perfect for an afternoon gulp.
Barefoot Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ($14) : Unlike some Cabs that slap you upside the head with tannins, the well-balanced fruity red features cherry and pepper action.
Lindeman's 2001 Bin 50 Shiraz ($13) : Jammy and fruity like a spoonful of raspberry preserves. Very smooth and easygoing.
R.H. Phillips 2000 Chardonnay ($14) : Smoky, oaky, buttery stuff. Packed full of apple and citrus flavors and sporting a nice, dry finish. Favorite white at the tasting.
Rosemount 2001 Chardonnay ($18) : Loaded with oak, but gets balanced out with nice, crisp acidity. Un-Chard like in character but nice and citrus-y. Great with food.
Taylor Eason is a regionally based wino who studied the juice in France and Italy. Comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.