Magnums instantly convey generosity. There's something enormously giving in that definitely-needs-two-hands pour. A greater sense of ceremony and celebration too. But magnums find favour among winemakers for more practical reasons that ultimately benefit the way the wines taste.
Experts say that there’s no better format for bottle ageing. Master Sommelier and Gusbourne Brand Ambassador Laura Rhys explains: “When you age in a magnum, the wine-to-cork ratio is different from that of a standard bottle. Magnums age wine more slowly, and for that reason I prefer the magnum, especially with sparkling wine."
What’s the science behind it? Stand a standard bottle and a magnum upright and you’ll see roughly the same amount of space between the wine and the cork (that's called the ullage). Over time, a small amount of oxygen passes through the cork and contributes to the way the wine ages, develops and tastes. The magnum’s larger volume (1.5litres or two standard bottles) means that twice the amount of wine is exposed to the same amount of oxygen. The simple maths? A slower ageing process that keeps wines bottled in magnums fresher for longer.
Is it a difference the average wine drinker will detect? How does the same wine, same vintage in magnum and standard compare?
“You might find a more vibrant fruit character in the magnum and less tertiary lees ageing – wines in magnums can sometimes appear younger,” says Laura. “More fruit and more vibrancy to that fruit. You can still taste that it’s the same wine, but with different nuances. Especially with the combination of lees and bottle ageing, wines age really beautifully in magnums. From the wine geek point of view – and it's the same for both still and sparkling wines – it’s really interesting to see how slower ageing develops more complex profiles, aromas, textures over time."
The June 2020 release of Gusbourne Rosé 2016 in both standard bottles and magnums was a first. Magnums of Gusbourne wines are few and far between. We have produced very limited numbers of magnums in the past, so it is quite a special experience to have the opportunity to enjoy one. And even more so for our sparkling Rosé, which we bottled in Magnum for the very first time in 2016. The Rosé 2016 is absolutely ideal for it.
“I opened a Rosé 2016 the other day in standard bottle,” says Laura. “It was so elegant. Bright red fruit, ripe strawberries, raspberries and cherries with a slightly floral nose. It’s drinking beautifully right now. And I know that the magnums I set aside to enjoy in a couple years will be equally interesting in a different way. Whereas now it’s bright and zesty with even a bit of pink grapefruit and tangerine character, we’ll start to see a subtly softer strawberries-and-cream texture as it begins to age, while still retaining its freshness and minerality."
So there you have the technical explanation of why magnums are the ideal format. Beyond that, as we know, is the theatre – the added specialness that comes when we anticipate that important celebratory occasion with friends, when a magnum is definitely the right choice.
Laura Rhys MS began her career in wine in 2004. The early years were spent alongside the industry’s finest, including World Sommelier Champion Gérard Basset MS, MW. In 2009, Laura won the prestigious “UK Sommelier of theYear" title and in 2010, achieved Master Sommelier status from the Court of Master Sommeliers. She joined Gusbourne in 2015 as Global Brand Ambassador, working alongside Chief Winemaker Charlie Holland.
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