If you look for the meaning of the word “punt” in the dictionary, you will most likely find 5 definitions:
1. verb – delay in answering or taking action; equivocate.
2. noun – a long, narrow, flat-bottomed boat, square at both ends and propelled with a long pole, used on inland waters chiefly for recreation.
3. noun – a Football kick after it the ball is dropped from the hands of the player and before it reaches the ground.
4. noun – informal, a bet.
5. noun – the basic monetary unit of the Republic of Ireland (until replaced by the euro), equal to 100 Irish pence.
America’s leading and most-trusted provider of language information, Merriam-Webster goes a step further by adding a geographical definition:
6. name – a part of Africa not certainly identified but probably Somaliland, and an ancient Egyptian name.
Ironically, none of the above interpretations relates to this article, because there’s yet one more definition that most dictionaries forgot to mention. It is however defined and explained in my very own website : Wine Ponder ; )
In the wild world of wine, the punt is the funny concave bump, dimple or steep rise portion at the bottom of a wine bottle – far more pronounced in Champagne bottles – which somewhat reduces the interior volume capacity of the bottle. Some people call it a hump. It is also know as a push-up or a kick-up. Some glassmakers also call this feature a “shove-up”, and when the base indentation is shallow, it is often described with terms like “indented” or “domed”.
Now we know what it is… But what does it do? And why is it there?
There is really no consensual explanation for its purpose, but I will however list a few of the most commonly cited.
• Aesthetic – It is a historical remnant from the era when wine bottles were free blown using a blowpipe and pontil (iron rod used to hold and shape soft glass). This technique leaves a punt mark on the base of the bottle, by indenting the point where the pontil is attached.
A pontil is also called a punty, which could explain the origin of our word. I think we’re onto something here.
• Stability – It has the function of making the bottle less likely to topple over—a bottle designed with a flat bottom only needs a small convex imperfection to make it unstable – the dimple historically allowed for a larger margin of error.
• Content Sedimentation – It consolidates sediment deposits in a thick ring at the bottom of the bottle, preventing much/most of it from being poured into the glass.
• Strength Enhancing – The same reason as aluminium soft drinks cans do, it increases the strength of the bottle, allowing it to hold the high pressure (as high as 80 to 90 psi – 3 times the pressure inside a typical tire) of sparkling wine/champagne.
It also prevents the bottle from resonating as easily, decreasing the likelihood of shattering during transportation. The early days of glassmaking made wine transportation a risky business. Many workers ended in a hospital because of injuries from broken glass and sometimes explosions in the case of Champagne.
• Efficiency – It provides a grip for riddling a bottle (remuage in French) of sparkling wine manually in the traditional champagne production process.
• Marketability – It consumes some volume of the bottle, allowing the bottle to be larger for the same amount of wine, which may impress the purchaser. Sneaky… and not cool! In the case of a large punt, you may seriously think there’s a full glass left in the bottle, but all you really have is just a sip; and that my friend is not a happy feeling.
• Protection – Taverns had a steel pin set vertically in the bar. The empty bottle would be thrust bottom-end down onto this pin, puncturing a hole in the top of the punt, guaranteeing the bottle could not be refilled.
• Practicality – It allows bottles to be more easily stacked end to end.
• Sophistication – Punts are also used to help pour the wine, providing a grip for the thumb on the bottom bottle for easy pouring, which by the way is NOT easy to do. This requires special skills and I have witnessed lots of unhappy accidents from people trying this.
FUN FACT: For the longest time, winemakers were free to use any bottle size. With import/export and international trades increasing in the wine industry, the European legislature decided to reduce the number of volumes of contents that were too close to others of the same product, and which consequently are liable to mislead the consumer. Back in 1975, they came up with a list of rules and regulations for all pre-packaged products… And yes, liquids are included. Their justification is consumer protection and market transparency.
The standard size wine bottle has consistently the same volume (750ml / 25.3floz). That said, they all have various shapes and sizes. So how can they maintain the same volume? Well, they do it with the thickness of the glass, and… The punt!
For example, take three bottles of the same shape and glass thickness. They all clearly have a different size and yet the volume is exactly the same. How is that possible? Once again, the punt! It’s physics my friend ; )
And wouldn’t you know that just when I am posting this article, CAYMUS recently released their special 40th Anniversary 1000ml bottle for their Cabernet Sauvignon. (This is in addition to the 40th Anniversary 750ml.) Well, at least we can all have an extra glass or two of that amazing wine…
My apologies for the delay in writing this article. I meant to publish it a long time ago, but I have been punting. See what I did there?
Santé ; )
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