The magnum bottle, once the preserve of bankers’ bonus celebrations, is entering the mainstream as supermarkets report a surge in sales.
Waitrose says purchases of magnums – twice the size of ordinary wine bottles – have doubled in the past year, while Sainsbury’s and Tesco each point to growth of more than 20%. At Majestic Wine, the UK’s largest specialist wine shop, sales have risen by 500%.
Magnums are commonly associated with champagne but the new trend, according to Waitrose, is for non-sparkling wines such as Côtes du Rhône in 1.5 litre bottles.
“Shoppers are looking for more affordable choices in these wow-factor bottles,” said Anne Jones, category manager of wine, beer and spirits at the supermarket chain. A magnum of soave costs £8 at Tesco, while a malbec costs £15 at Sainsbury’s. This is significantly cheaper than champagne magnums – such as Moët, Lanson and Bollinger – where the lowest prices range between £65 and £90.
A record £15m in magnum sales was reported in the UK last year, according to Nielsen Research. Although sales are modest within a £6.7bn UK wine market, thetrend drew expressions of concern from one alcohol expert.
“If we get to the stage where there’s a price incentive to purchase them, like there is with boxed wine, then this could become more of a concern,” said Prof Petra Meier, the head of the Alcohol Research Group at the University of Sheffield. Meier said the image of a magnum as a luxury product had put off heavy drinkers historically, but the boom in low-priced 1.5 litre bottles could change that.
Meier argues that larger serving sizes tend to lead to “more and faster consumption”, which would fly against recent trends in the UK where binge drinking has been in decline. Public Health England says 31% of adults drink more than four units on their heaviest day of the week, down from 37% a decade ago.
In Australia – where the magnum has been mainstream for some time – binge drinking is believed to affect almost half of young adults, though there is no evidence to suggest the larger bottles are fuelling this. Per capita, alcohol consumption in Australia is only marginally higher than in Britain, at 12.6 litres of pure alcohol a year compared with 12, according to the World Health Organization.
Exports of magnums from Australia to the UK increased by 130% last year, according to Wine Australia. But there, the magnum craze is driven by the so-called “goon bag”, box wine, which was invented in the 1960s.
The UK version has been rebranded as the “bagnum” and since its launch in 2013, at a cost of between £22 and £30 per bag, sales have doubled each year.
“Retailers are cottoning on that it’s not the drinking that’s important, it’s the
drinking experience,” said Joe Fattorini, one of the presenters of The Wine Show on Channel 5. “There’s something very sociable about sharing magnums. It’s a way of bonding.”
Fattorini insists the best wines he has ever tasted have been poured from a magnum.
“Wine matures more slowly in bigger bottles, so it develops more complex aromas and textures, but still keeps that lovely fresh fruit,” he said.
Wine bottle sizes
Standard (750ml): the common bottle size for most wine – six
Magnum (1.5l): equivalent to two standard bottles – 12 glasses.
Double magnum (3l): Four standard bottles – 24 glasses.
Jeroboam (4.5l): six standard bottles – 36 glasses.
Imperial (6l): eight standard bottles or two double magnums – 48
Salmanazar (9l): 12 standard bottles or a full case of wine – 72
Balthazar (12l): 16 standard bottles or two imperials – 96 glasses.
Nebuchadnezzar (15l): 20 standard bottles – 120 glasses.
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