If you’re having friends over for a holiday party, instead of buying a few normal bottles of wine, dream big and go for a magnum. Nothing kicks a party into high gear like pulling a monster Champagne bottle out of the fridge, popping the cork, and letting the crowd go wild. It’s drinks and a photo opportunity in one oversized package. “The biggest selling point [of the magnum] is that your friends are going to be so impressed,” says Rebecca Fineman, master sommelier and managing partner of Ungrafted and GluGlu in San Francisco.
Regrettably, shoppers often overlook magnums, maybe assuming they’re too expensive or just too much wine. In fact, a magnum is 1.5 liters, or double the volume of a standard bottle, and shouldn’t cost more than two regular bottles of the same wine.
Aside from the immediate vibe boost, winemakers respect magnums because there are technical advantages. “The beauty of a magnum is that it matures more slowly” than standard and half bottles of wine, says Fineman. “So the wine is just always in the best shape.” And because producers tend to reserve the magnum treatment for the wines they consider worth celebrating, it’s usually a safe bet that the big bottles contain something special. It’s also cool that more guests get to taste the exact same bottle.
Magnums can be found in bottle shops or bought directly through wineries. Tracking down a specific bottle from a certain winemaker might prove tricky, as magnums are often produced in limited quantities, but during the holidays retailers offer a few festive options. Many focus on Champagne, although Fineman promises there are interesting options for bubbles at every price point. For her husband and partner Chris Gaither’s upcoming birthday, she plans to pull out Huet Petillant ($84), a delightfully affordable sparkling chenin blanc from the Loire Valley.
Here are half a dozen big bottles of bubbles, from the most elegant houses to the chillest natural makers.
An entry-level Champagne
For Champagne from a respected name that won’t break the bank, rely on Charles Heidsieck. Charlie struck out from his famous family and established his own house in 1851, which today continues a strong tradition of complex blends. The Brut Reserve combines pinot noir, Chardonnay, and Meunier grapes from 60 different vineyards, and it’s rich with freshly baked brioche, apricot, and pistachio flavors.
A bold and bright brut
If you’d rather snack on tinned fish than sugar cookies at a holiday party, reach for a magnum that’s extra dry. Fourny & Fils was founded in 1856, and now belongs to the fifth generation of the family. The brothers focus on old vines of Chardonnay with little to no added sugar, resulting in a style that’s unusually bold and bright. Their leanest bottle is the Brut Nature, featuring 100 percent Chardonnay, absolutely no added sugar, and citrus notes that pop with seafood.
An elegant sparkling rosé
This pretty, pale pink, and soignée sparkling rosé comes courtesy of the ladies of J. Lassalle. They’re one of the original grower Champagnes, bottling their own grapes since 1942. The Rosé Premier Cru features mostly pinot noir, and it’s as delicate and smooth as strawberries and cream, although the chalky soil adds fresh minerality.
The California classic
For an iconic sparkling wine from Napa Valley, throw it back with Schramsberg. Their first wine was the 1965 Blanc de Blanc, made from Chardonnay grapes, and the first of its kind in the United States. It’s aged in stainless steel barrels, which keep it crisp and dry, and the 2020 vintage tastes of green apple with touches of ginger and vanilla.
Wild western bubbles
More chill and minerally bubbles come from far western Sonoma County. Cool coastal fog rolls into the vines at Iron Horse, where the Sterling family has been sustainably farming Chardonnay and pinot noir since 1975. Several of their sparklers come in magnums, including the Stargazing Cuvee, featuring a wild galactic label from the James Webb Space Telescope, and bright bursts of tiny bubbles. Like many of their wines, it goes down gorgeously with oysters.
Super cool and natural
Broc Cellars in Berkeley made natural wine long before it was cool, starting with light and fruity zinfandel in 2004. Today, they offer fizz at a refreshingly low price point: The Sparkling Chenin reveals a straw yellow color and teases citrus flavors like kumquat. (As a small natural winery, Broc makes particularly limited quantities of magnums, so if they’re between batches, it’s also available in standard bottles.)
Becky Duffett is a food writer living in San Francisco. She’s the former deputy editor of Eater SF, and her recent work has appeared in the New York Times, Bon Appétit, the SF Chronicle, and Edible SF.
Cait Beyer is a food photographer based in Oakland. She’s shot for Eater, Domino, Rue, Good Eggs, Sunbasket, Minted, and more.