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Punt Tales

By the 18th century, different wine regions of Europe invented signature-style bottles to mark their territory as well to adjust for the needs of their particular region’s wine. The Burgundy-type bottle (red and white Burgundy, Syrah and Viognier) is shapely with a tapered neck since the Burgundian founding fathers did not need a trap for dregs like their Bordeaux brothers whose bottle was designed with wide and stern shoulders. Both Burgundy and Bordeaux styled bottles have a dimple on the bottom called a punt.

The punt at the bottom of a bottle is a deep indentation in a bottle’s butt. It diffuses pressure and helps balance the gas which is important in Champagne bottles. Still wine bottles do not need a punt, but many producers keep it as tradition. Punts date to the time that glassblowers produced bottles by hand using a wood stick to hold the glass from the neck end. After forming the bottle, the glassblower pulled out the stick, creating a punched-in bottom.

Some producers of Pinot Noir have an astonishingly deep punt. Many years ago, a British study showed that it was possible to determine the value of the bottle of wine by feeling the depth of its dimple. Previously this was thought to be an urban myth. Some researchers with nothing better to do actually measured differently priced bottles of wine. It was shown that more expensive wines had deeper punts. The relationship between depth and price could be expressed by the equation: price of bottle-punt depth in millimeters + $5.64/4.314. The homemade depth gauge that was used by researchers to make the measurements was auctioned on eBay.

I went into my own cellar to feel a few punts. I used my two fingers (index and middle) as a depth gauge and graded the depth of the punt as none, first knuckle and second knuckle. Some punts have a nipple at the depth of the depression that can slightly affect the measurement. After sampling several bottles, I found that the scientific results reported by the British researchers are valid but not infallible. Some of my lowly Pinot Noir wines (for unwanted guests, relatives and cooking) had no dimple at all and a very few had a good-sized punt. Most Pinot Noir bottles had a one-knuckle punt that seems to be the most common punt size.

When you are at a party you can amaze the crowd by feeling the punt depth and picking out the most expensive wines. When you are at your local wine retailer, you can wager a bottle of good Pinot Noir on whether you can tell the more expensive bottle by holding the bottle and subtlety putting you two fingers into the punt. Just don’t overdo it, people might think you are some kind of weirdo.

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