Wednesday, January 06, 2010

It's Time To Punt

Since it's football post-season time, I'm compelled to explore a certain wine term. More specifically, a wine bottle term.

If you've ever wondered what to call the indentation in the bottom of a wine bottle, this blog topic will end the mystery for you. In fact, you'll learn so much about the term "punt", you'll surely impress (or depress, sorry, I couldn't resist the pun) your friends at your next wine gathering.

According to Wikipedia, "punt", refers to the recess at the bottom of a wine bottle. Despite all the wine experts out there (who are merely justifying their drinking habit by intellectualizing it), it seems no one is certain why the punt exists.

So, since there is no right answer here, let's pick on Wikipedia. I will copy/paste the Wikipedia section entry for "Punts" under "Wine Bottle", then I'll offer my own unresearched response. (As an aside: If "Web" and "Log" became to be known as a "Blog", what would you get if you also included the word, "Slob"? "Slog"? or "Blob"?) Anyway, in that vein, here is my soggy blob of a swigging wine blog, where I'll plagiarize the Wiki answers then offer my foggy retorts:

1. "It is a historical remnant from the era when wine bottles were free blown using a blowpipe and pontil. This technique leaves a punt mark on the base of the bottle; by indenting the point where the pontil is attached, this scar would not scratch the table or make the bottle unstable."
- I love this reason and it sounds like a plausable explanation. It's very romantic to think of the days of yore, when bottles were personally and individually blown.

2. "It had the function of making the bottle less likely to topple over—a bottle designed with a flat bottom only needs a small imperfection to make it unstable—the dimple historically allowed for a larger margin of error."
- I find this to be a very similar to reason #1. But instead of it simply being a "blemish" of manufacture, this reason seems like an intended design characteristic. Or the Wiki people are just being me.

3. "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."
- Speaking of blowing, I'm blowing the whistle on this one. I don't buy it. The sediment isn't retained by the punt, it just pushes it to the side of the bottom of the bottle. But wait! Shouldn't the bottle be laying on its side anyway? So actually the sediment would be along the length of the bottle not the bottom where the punt is. Hmmm, where's the citation on this entry?

4. "It increases the strength of the bottle, allowing it to hold the high pressure of sparkling wine/champagne."
- Okay, now my faith in Wikipedia has been restored. Yes, a thin, flat piece of glass at the bottom of a container full of pressurized liquid will soon be compromised. This would be especially unfortunate for me since Kendra, my bride, drinks sparkling wine almost exclusively. Imagine how my evening would go if Kendra did not get her bubbles due to a "design flaw". I'm just sayin', you wouldn't want to be me.

5. "It holds the bottles in place on pegs of a conveyor belt as they go through the filling process in manufacturing plants."
- Theoretically, anyone can enter information into Wikipedia, right? Has this poster (or should I say, "poser") ever been on a bottling line? Of course, I could be totally wrong here. Maybe when dinosaurs roamed the planet there were pegs in the conveyor belts. But I'll bet my Brontosaurus they didn't. Jeez, you don't see me making contributions to the Wikpedia entry on the Pygmy Hippopotamus, do ya?

6. "It accommodates the pourer's thumb for stability and ease of pouring."
- Okay, I have shoved my thumb up the punt on occasion. And I do say its useful if you are pouring across the table and need a little more reach. Maybe it's me, but it also seems like snootier waiters prefer this method of pouring. It could be proper etiquette. I dunno, perhaps I should look up "etiquette" in Wikipedia.

7. "According to legend the punt was used by servants. They often knew more than their master about what was happening in town, and with a thumb up the punt they could show their master whether a guest was reliable or not."
- Wow, that's some crafty sign language! Perhaps you can use this technique at home to signal to your partner that it's time to cut off an obnoxious guest.

8. "It provides a grip for riddling a bottle of sparkling wine manually in the traditional champagne production process."
- I can't attest to this. A punt makes sense for a champagne bottle for the extra strength the glass offers against its pressurized contents. But I haven't seen a lot of riddling in my days. Sounds like I'm overdue for a trip to France!

9. "It simply takes up some of the volume of the bottle, giving the impression that you're getting more wine for your money than is actually the case."
- Okay, this sounds a little paranoid. But now that I think about it, it happens with cookie packaging all the time! Sure, they print the weight on the package but when you reach in you find a big tray of plastic with only a couple of cookies inside. This is dastardly. Likewise, I've been duped with heavy wine bottles too--Thinking there was more wine in the bottle (based on its weighted "feel"), I wept as only a few measly drops struggled into my glass.

10. "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."
- This sounds like a legend. And why would a punt be needed for this? With no punt the pin could be shorter. I'm calling a foul here.

11. "The punt acts as a lens, refracting the light to make the color of the wine more appealing."
- Okay, now we're really reaching. There is a chance, I must admit, some clever marketer concocted this scheme. But facts are, light hurts wine. That's why most bottles are green, brown or some other dark color. Even the clear bottles usually have some UV protection mixed in with the glass.

12. "Prevents the bottle from resonating as easily, decreasing the likelihood of shattering during transportation."
- What! Why are musicians making Wiki entries about wine bottles?

13. "Allows bottles to be more easily stacked end to end."
Oh sure, sometimes we stack single columns of wine bottles 10, even 20 high, right on top of one another. Okay, I apologize, my sarcasm is starting to get a little thick and could be scaring some folks. Perhaps if you put the bottles on there sides, they'll nestle together better. Indeed, in our tasting bar it does allow the bottles to rest a litter deeper in the bins...Zzzzzzz.

14. "An indication of wine quality (the deeper the punt, the better the wine)."
- 14. Really? Fourteen reasons and none of them are for certain? I wonder how many encyclopedic entries are like this? "Sure we think the answer is in one of these 14 choose the right one for you!" But this is part of what makes wine fun. It's an old, nay, ancient art and I'm glad wine is still shrouded in some mystery. At least it gives people like me a lot of leeway to tell a different story every time you ask a question! But I digress, wine quality is wine quality, it has nothing to do with the glass. However, bottles with punts cost more and wine makers do tend to use better quality glass on their better quality wines. They don't stop there, though. Wine makers will use better corks, better capsules, and better labels for their high quality wines. It does happen on occasion, though, that an inferior wine is put into a beautiful wine bottle (probably in hopes of getting a better price from an unsuspecting public). Nothing is more disappointing, though. In this case, you've spent a lot money on a pretty package containing something pretty awful. And it cost you a lot more than some over-packaged cookies!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Yuk! Can I send back this wine ?

Kendra, my wife, looked at me over her glass of champagne and said, “What’s wrong?” We were in an upscale hotel bar in San Francisco and I must have been contorting my face after my first sip of a Sonoma zinfandel.
“Do you want to send it back?” she asked?
“I’m afraid I can’t.” I said.

It was cold and raining outside. A perfect night for a zinfandel. I already had one unremarkable glass of zin at the bar and was looking for something with more oak and spice to warm me up. But this glass was beyond disappointing. There were no pepper, smoke, or even fruit aromas. It simply offered one bad odor.

But, the wine wasn’t corked or oxidized. It didn’t smell like wet newspapers, old dog, sherry, or vinegar, so technically I had no cause to send it back. However, the wine was flawed with a Brettanomyces infection (or “Brett” in hip wine speak).

What does Brett smell like? Brett can produce several compounds that produce different aromas. They are, and smell like:
- 4-ethylphenol: Band-aids, barnyard, horse stable, antiseptic
- 4-ethylguaiacol: Bacon, spice, cloves, smoky
- isovaleric acid: Sweaty saddle, cheese, rancidity

At low levels, some of these compounds can be quite pleasant (like spice, cloves, and smoke), however at high levels the wine can become undrinkable. The Sonoma zin I was served smelled like it was stored in a warm beach ball then tapped through an old garden hose into my glass.

Although possible, those aromas didn’t just happen in the bottle. The wine probably tasted like this while in the barrel. Why would the winery bottle this wine? Worse yet, why would the wine buyer for this hotel bar purchase at least a case of it? Did the buyer not taste this wine? Did the buyer get a great deal and thought the bar could pass it off to unsophisticated wine drinkers?


What was I to do? You’re not suppose to send back a wine you don’t like. You can, however, send back a wine you don’t like if it was recommended to you by the server/sommelier. But, alas, I adventured out on to this limb by myself.

I could have tried to pull rank as a wine maker and explained why the wine was so foul and demanded a different wine. But I did not. I did the only think I could do. I ordered the smokiest, single-malt Scotch on the menu and burned that band-aid taste out of my mouth!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Clare-ly someone needs a cab!

There is a lovely, retired couple living here in Cambria that are dedicated Moonstone Cellars wine club members. Like many of their generation, they do not have a computer. The bad news about that: they miss out on our periodic email notices and offers. The good news: I can blog about them.

But just in case, let’s call them Ken and Barbara. Ken is the red drinker and Barbara, well, enjoys just about everything. Ken loves our Cabernet Sauvignon and refers to it (and all Cabernet Sauvignons as “Cabbies”). He also really digs our Merlot. He can’t get enough of either.

The other day, Ken asked me, “Are you ever going to make a claret?” Before I could answer, he said “I just love that grape but I don’t see much of it around here.” As many of you can attest, it’s right about here where I jump in and start explaining the origin of grapes, what we grow around here, and any other relevant educational tidbits.

I revealed to Ken “claret” is just a name the English uses to refer to red Bordeaux wines. Thus, every time he drank his beloved “Cabbie”, or a Merlot, or for that matter a Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, or Malbec, (or any blend of these) he was drinking a “claret”.

Ken nodded and said, “Yeah, but, such-and-such winery had a claret and only one other winery around here had a claret. They don’t make ‘em anymore. What a shame. I don’t know what it is, but I just love those clarets. I wish more wineries would make wines from that grape.”

I made (I thought) another well-reasoned explanation of what a claret is and Ken said, “Yeah, but it’s the claret grape I really like.”

I gave up.

I’m not sure if, a) I’m a bad wine educator, b) Ken is just “set in his ways”, or c) I should've call Ken a cabbie!

So there’s good news and bad news for Ken. The bad news: Ken doesn’t understand “claret” is just another term for a wine made from the red grapes that originated from the Bordeaux region. The good news is that Ken lives in a region that grows the Bordeaux varietals extremely well. Whether he knows it or not, with every sip of our Cab or Merlot, he’s enjoying his beloved claret. Perhaps I should make a special label just for him.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How I became a winemaker

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Here's a more scientific way to determine how the fermentation is coming along: use a hydrometer. Basically speaking, the hydrometer is a floating scale to determine the amount of sugar left in the wine. As the fermentation progresses, there'll be less sugar. In this video, the sugars are at 10% (or 10-degrees Brix...named after some German dude who invented this scale). To learn more about Brix, go to:

Whistlin' Dixie

Yay, the Chardonnay is fermenting! How do I know? Well, when it whistles, I know! Yeah, there are other ways to tell. I do get out my hydrometer to measure sugar levels. But I know things are going great when the relief valve on the bung is starting to sing!

You see, when the yeast eat the sugar in the grape juice, about 55% of it gets converted into alcohol. Much of the rest gets converted into carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 builds up pressure in the barrel and we use a special bung to let the gas escape. Otherwise the bung would get shot across the winery, or worse...the barrel would explode!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Feeling the Burn

The 2009 grapes are coming and that means the 2008 and 2007 wines need to be put to bed, one way or another. Whether it be bottling, racking, or topping, previous vintages must be stabilized before they get ignored while the 2009 wines are being born.

Being a winemaker is a little like being a time traveler. We must constantly think across multiple years. For instance, I still have 2007 and 2008 wines in barrels needing attention. Yet, the 2009 Harvest is here and those resulting wines won't be ready until 2010, 2011, or 2012. Thus, I am simultaneously living in the past while forecasting wine demand for the future.

Well, I must have been lost in this time warp today when I was putting the finishing touches on our 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. I was preparing a cleaning solution to sterilize my pump, hoses, valves, etc., and didn't notice I had a heavy concentration of caustic solution on my arm.

This is never good, anytime.

The chemical is pretty insidious. I didn't notice I was being eaten alive by the stuff until I was busy with another critical wine operation.

Needless to say, I dropped what I was doing and ran for relief. Unfortunately, the fix for a caustic burn is to neutralize it with acid. Without going into gory detail, just imagine squirting lemon juice into an open wound. For those cult movie fans out there, just think about the film "Fight Club". I was Jack's burning arm.

Fortunately, wine offers pain-numbing qualities. So, as I was transferring the lucsious 2007 Cabernet from barrel to tank and back again, I would self-prescribe an occasional "medicial" sip to dull the sensation throughout the day.

This just goes to show, that even when you have a bad day in the wine business, wine makes everything right...even if there will be less 2007 Cabernet to sell next year!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

DogCast: New Employee

Please welcome our new tasting room employee, Sophie Moon. Her German background will bring new insights to our award-winning Gewurztraminer. Please come by and introduce yourself to her the next time you are in Cambria!