What’s a punt?

When I cracked open the screw cap on a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir the other day and got ready to pour, I noticed that my thumb fell naturally into that deep dent on the bottom of the bottle. Is that what it’s for?

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Well, not exactly, but if it’s handy, I say use it.

The bottom of a wine bottle, more often than not, is not flat but deeply indented in this cone shape. This odd dent prompts one of our most frequently asked wine questions: What’s it called, and what is it for? There’s a lot of history and tradition, and possibly even some common sense, behind this familiar indentation.

First the name: The wine-bottle dent is called a “punt” in English-language wine industry and wine-nerd speak, the same word as the kick on fourth down in American football. Even more curious, those in the bottle-making trade call it a “kick-up,” also evocative of boot toe on football leather.

Wine bottle punts

Wine bottle punts

It gets even more strange: Punt may be one of the most over-used unusual words in English. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, punt may be a noun or a verb and has at least a half-dozen possible meanings. “Punt” may represent the act of propelling a narrow flatboat with a pole, or the boat itself; gambling against the banker; kicking a football; the Irish unit of currency; the ancient Egyptian name for Somaliland, or, since its first appearance in the language in 1845, that pesky wine-bottle indentation.

Okay, then. So what’s it for? Here we move onto even less certain ground, as this tradition seems to predate the name itself, going back to the earliest days of bottle making.

One theory holds that early glass blowers learned that a deep indentation made a sturdier bottle than a simple round or flat-bottomed flask. This hypothesis gains some credibility from the presence of a very deep punt in most Champagne bottles, which have to withstand heavy internal pressure.

Other experts speculate that the dent reflects the shape of the iron rod used to hold the bottle safely while it was being blown in the old-time process. A related if probably mythical speculation, by the way, suggests that the standard size of wine and liquor bottles – 750 ml or one-fifth of a gallon – was the natural result of the amount of air that a typical adult glass-blower could produce with one deep breath.

Theories abound. For instance, the fact that the crease around the punt inside the bottle serves to collect sediment raises the notion that wine-bottle makers intended it that way. Champagne bottles are often stacked nose-to-punt during production, saving space. And of course, as I noticed at the start of this reverie, it feels natural to hold the bottle with thumb in punt when you’re pouring.

And then there’s the cynical notion that, just as extra cardboard and plastic fillers expand the apparent size of candy bars and many other projects, we might wonder if the punt represents a similar marketing ploy.

One thing is sure: There’s no real need for a punt in modern wine bottles. But as with so much about wine – including, of course, the natural cork – tradition is an important part of marketing wine, and a lot of consumers feel vaguely uneasy if we don’t get what we’re used to.

What do you think? Do you have information, a hypothesis, or even just a good story to tell about the punt and wine-bottle packaging? Can you share with us the word for “punt” in other languages? I hope you’ll take a moment to share your comments in our Wine Lovers’ Discussion Group ane our WineLovers Facebook Page.

As for that New Zealand Pinot Noir, it was pretty good. You’ll find my tasting notes below.


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Today’s Tasting Report

Teece Family Vineyards 2017 “Sisters Ridge” North Canterbury Pinot Noir ($19.99)

"Sisters Ridge" North Canterbury Pinot Noir

Clear dark garnet, with a clear edge. Ripe cherry-berry aromas, a mix of red cherries and blackberries with a faint back note of fresh herbs. Tart cherries carry over on the palate with good acid balance, with a lighter touch of tannic astringency following along. The cherry flavors are clean and fresh, lingering in a long, subtle finish. A relatively light 12.5% alcohol, according to the label. U.S. importer: Mistarr Wine Importers, Benicia, Calif. (March 5, 2020)

FOOD MATCH: Red meat, mushrooms, and cheese all go well with Pinot Noir. This one was fine with mild white cheese and with a slice of meatloaf and gravy.

WHEN TO DRINK: The metal screwcap should ensure freshness over the short to medium term. Drink up over the next three to five years.

This is a good cool-climate Pinot Noir showing varietal character. It’s a fair buy in the $20 range.

Here’s a link to Mount Beautiful, parent winery to Sisters Ridge.

Wine-Searcher.com has no listing for this wine, perhaps new in the market. Sisters Ridge parent company Mount Beautiful suggests contacting the winery or calling (707) 745-3649 to order directly.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to find listings for dozens of other wines from New Zealand’s Canterbury region.

Join this month’s Wine Focus conversation, New Zealand, in our WineLovers Discussion Group.


More affordable wines

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10 or less that I’ve told you about during the past year or two. Please tell us about your favorites!

  • La Vieille Ferme Vin de France Rosé ($8.99)
  • La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8.99)
  • Laroque Cité de Carcassonne Cabernet Franc ($9.99)
  • Domaine de Pouy 2016 Côtes de Gascogne ($7.99)
  • Alamos Mendoza Malbec ($9.99)
  • Caposaldo Chianti ($8.99)
  • d’Arenberg McLaren Vale “The Stump Jump” ($9.99)

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