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Punts-300.jpgApart from being the name of those flat-bottomed boats that you propel down the river with a pole, the term ‘punt’ also refers to the indentation that is found in the bottom of many wine bottles.

But what is the punt for, if anything, and does the presence, or absence, of a punt give any clue as to the quality of the wine in the bottle?

I wonder if practicality didn’t play a big part in the origins of the punt. Perhaps the first punts came about because, in days gone by, all bottle were hand blown and the molten glass had to be held by the glass blower in some way – usually with a clamp or something resembling a pair of pliers – and the tool left an indent in the bottom of the bottle.

This seems a plausible explanation but I admit it is only speculation and it must be said that some wine bottles, Rieslings for example, don’t have punts at all.

Some people say that the punt is helpful to separate the lees in red wine thus making red wine easier to decant. Be that as it may, what is indisputable is that a punt makes the bottles stronger and so punts were universally adopted by sparkling wine makers, probably starting with champagne makers.

Exploding bottles

Exploded-bottle-at-Champagne-Neret-Vely-300It’s certainly true that back in Dom Pérignon’s time exploding bottles were extremely common because the glass couldn’t withstand the pressure that built up inside the bottles as the wine fermented. Mind you, even though Dom Perignon didn’t really understand what was going on with his wine he was shrewd enough not to allow the problem to affect his business; he used to sell on what we would now call and ex cellars basis so any bottles that exploded en route to the buyer’s home in Paris or elsewhere was a loss for the buyer to bear, not Dom Pérignon.

However, back to the issue of a punt solving the problem of exploding bottles. In the case of champagne this is because a bottle with a punt has a greater surface area of glass and so the pressure per square centimetre is reduced.

Sur-point-at-Philipponnat-300It’s also interesting, and perhaps relevant, to note that champagne is sometimes stored ‘sur pointe’ with the neck of one bottle resting in the punt of the bottle below. This practice allows the champagne to age more slowly than it would if the bottle were on its side because when the bottle is ‘sur pointe’ the lees gather in the narrow neck of the bottle and thus the surface area of the lees that is exposed to and reacting with the wine is reduced, thus slowing down the exchange between the two. However whether this is a useful bonus of having a punt, or the reason that punts were used in the first place, I do not know.

Then there are those that say that a punt makes a bottle easier to hold and pour. Perhaps, but I for one don’t find this a terribly convincing argument to explain why punts were used in the first place.

Bigger punt, better wine?

What about the question of a correlation between the size of a punt and the quality of the wine?

Again I know of no scientific or empirical evidence for this. It’s true that a good, deep punt does add a certain weightiness to the bottle in your hand and we sometimes associate the weight with higher quality, but as far as I am aware this is a purely psychological effect that doesn’t bear close scrutiny.

So that only leaves us with the ‘greater surface are = stronger bottle’ argument. I’d be pleased to hear from anyone who has any other insights to share but one thing is for sure is that the punt does not influence the quality of the wine inside the bottle.