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Ask the Winemaker, Take a punt

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by Chris Cameron, Winemaker, JanKris Winery, Paso Robles, California

Generally at this time of year a considerably higher volume of sparkling wine is consumed to celebrate the holiday season.

I use the term sparkling wine rather than Champagne which is a specific type of sparkling wine. The word Champagne should ONLY BE USED WHEN REFERRING TO WINES FROM THE CHAMPAGNE DISTRICT OF FRANCE!!! You may have guessed I feel a bit passionate about this well, the area of Champagne in France makes a very unique, and in my opinion, by far the best sparkling wine in the world and no other area/region/producer outside of that region has the right to use the word Champagne”. Unfortunately many still do and the true Champagne producers are fighting to protect their rights. I wholeheartedly support their cause! I will get off my soap box now (we call it a cordial box in Australia) and move on to today’s discussion….why is the punt in the bottom of a wine bottle?

The indentation in the base of wine bottles is generally termed a punt. Its origins have been interpreted many ways so here is what I know. There are suggestions that the early glass blowers had difficulty in producing a flat base for the bottle, in many instances leaving a sharp spot where the bottle was held and subsequently marking tables and benches. They found it was more stable and less likely to scratch if an indentation was left.

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Champagne, however, required a more sophisticated system to use in the process of making their wine or methode champenoise required a specific bottle shape. The punt does indeed assist in strengthening the bottle as well as allowing easier pouring by waiters but it did have a more specific purpose. The art of making Champagne requires a secondary fermentation in individual bottles where it remains until consumption. This fermentation produces lees (see link to methode champenoise above for a detailed explanation) that remain in the bottle as part of the aging process. In early days the wines were “riddled” to capture the lees upside down in the bottle and the punt allowed more stable storage for that purpose. In present production the secondary fermentation uses a “crown seal” (similar to beer bottles) for the secondary ferment but prior to that corks were used and secured by a clip (called and agrafe). The photos below show that clearly.

When the bottles completed riddling they were upside down and required extended storage that way. The shape of the cork seal fitted neatly and securely in the deep punt which also included an extra bump (called the plume) to add to stability. This is a diagram of a similar bottle shape used in early Champagne making. Note the deep punt and additional plume.

I would love to discuss Champagne production further and will endeavour to do so at a later date. These comments on the punt will no doubt create a lot of discussion but I had the privilege to be involved in tasting Chardonnay base wines at Veuve Clicquot many years ago and had this explained to me.

Chris Cameron

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