Magnum force: bigger bottles make impact on UK wine sales

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 more generic wines, such as sauvignon blanc and Côtes du Rhône, in super-sized receptacles.

“Shoppers are looking for more affordable choices in these wow-factor bottles,” said the Waitrose wine manager, Anne Jones. A magnum of soave costs £8 at Tesco, while a magnum of malbec costs £15 at Sainsbury’s. This is significantly cheaper than champagne magnums such as Moet, Lanson and Bollinger, where the lowest prices range between £65 and £90.

The total sales number is modest – a new record of £15m in magnum sales was achieved in the UK last year, according to Nielsen Research – but 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 Professor Petra Meier, the head of the Alcohol Research Group at Sheffield University. Meier said the image of a magnum as a luxury product had put off heavy drinkers historically, but the boom in low-priced mega-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 supersize bottles are fuelling this. In fact, 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 Organisation.

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”, which is a magnum in a bag not a bottle – 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, the presenter 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’s 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

125ml glasses.

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

glasses.

Salmanazar (9l): 12 standard bottles or a full case of wine – 72

glasses.

Balthazar (12l): 16 standard bottles or two imperials – 96 glasses.

Nebuchadnezzar (15l): 20 standard bottles – 120 glasses.