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Bigger bubbles: The rise and rise of the magnum

14 June 2018 • Written by Zoe Dickens

Once the preserve of playboys and party girls out to impress, the magnum has seen an unprecedented rise in popularity in recent years. Zoe Dickens investigates…

It’s a scene familiar to many yacht owners. You’ve arrived to meet your yacht in Cannes or Naples or St Barths. The sun is setting as you relax on the aft deck and a seemingly endless vacation stretches out in front you. All you need now is a glass of champagne to perfect the picture but, with guests on board and an evening of celebration ahead, surely just one bottle won’t suffice?

It is situations such as this, along with a renewed vogue for generous gift giving and decadent hosting, that has seen an unprecedented rise in the sale of magnum-sized bottles of both champagne and wine in recent years. The trend can be seen at all levels of the market, with UK specialist Majestic Wines citing a 500 per cent rise in magnum sales from 2016 to 2017, with many experts suggesting the growth in ‘affordable’ magnums is responsible for the rise.

Armand de Brignac Blanc de Blanc en Magnum, £1,650; Chateau d'Yquem 2014 at Clos19, £600

However, as Armand de Brignac CEO Sebastian Besson explains, there has been a notable effect on the upper echelons of the industry as well. “Our discerning consumers are very keen to procure our rare magnums. For a small house like Armand de Brignac, we are talking about a few hundred, and at most a few thousands of these magnums sold for each cuvée every year, and our larger format bottles have certainly become highly sought after by connoisseurs and fine wine collectors alike.” In fact, this larger format has become so popular that when the house released its new Blanc de Blancs en Magnum – which is comprised of 2005, 2006 and 2008 vintages and retails for £1,650 per bottle – earlier this year demand far outstripped what the house could supply.

Stephanie Watine Arnault, founder of LVMH’s fine drinks platform Clos19, agrees, explaining that it is not just traditional sparkling wine magnums that are benefitting from the trend. “We have seen a clear appetite from our consumers for larger formats across all champagnes, wines and spirits. Magnums of Château d’Yquem and Château Cheval Blanc are treasured for many aspects, including their capacity for ageing well.”

The Chateau d'Yquem vineyard. Image courtesy of Clos19.

And, while both agree that sales of larger formats spike around times of celebration, Watine Arnault’s comment hits on another possible explanation for the popularity of magnums - their investment potential. It has long been thought that wine properly cellared in magnums matures better and can be stored longer than standard-sized bottles thanks to a combination of reduced contact between the wine and the glass and less oxygen reaching the wine due to the fact that the mouth and cork are no bigger than a normal bottle.

When it comes to champagne, the second fermentation which takes places once the wine has been bottled is much slower and takes on a different character in a magnum meaning the champagne can develop more complexity – for more on the science behind this see the video below.

For those looking to buy for investment, Besson also points out that, since magnums have traditionally been a rarer format, they are often only offered by the finest retailers or direct from the maisons themselves meaning the level of care given to each bottle is usually much higher. So what should you be looking for in a good investment magnum? “Rarity, high demand and a good secondary value are important considerations,” says Besson, while Watine Arnault adds that is it “safer to choose wines or champagnes that already have good ageing potential and are from the best vintages and the most renowned estates.”

If you’re more of a buy-now-drink-now type person or are looking for a special bottle for an upcoming celebration then the happy news is there is a wide variety of bottles to choose from. “Serving magnums or larger formats when hosting more than a few people adds theatre and is both fun and practical. Sharing wine from the same bottle adds to the conviviality of the occasion,” says Watine Arnualt, suggesting Clos19’s non-vintage magnums as the best for serving immediately. Besson, meanwhile, points to Armand de Brignac’s Rosé Magnum for decadent days on the sundeck and the house’s Gold Brut Magnum for dinner with friends.

Serving magnums or larger formats when hosting more than a few people adds theatre and is both fun and practical.

Of course, once you’ve found your perfect bottle it pays to make sure it stays in pristine condition. Luckily if your yacht is already set up for storing fine wine no major adjustments will need to be made as the same general rules of a constant 10-15 degree Celsius temperature, 70-80% humidity and no exposure to direct sunlight, noise or excessive vibration all apply.

Having shaken off its aura of flashy ostentation, we predict there will be nothing chicer than a magnum of champagne to sip in the South of France this summer.