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Mar 23, 2007 02:04 PM

Judging the wine by its bottle - how significant is the punt?

Reading a Chow article about how to find a drinkable wine at the convenience store ... btw, I have yet to see that type of store keep bottles horizantal ... but I digress ... they mention checking for a punt (indentation) on the bottom of the bottle.

How about that? The there's a name to that and it doen't mean less wine in the bottle. So why's it there?

Searching, this old post says

Another clue to the winemaker's intention is the cork and glass used. If your wine was intended for aging, it should have been stoppered with a long (more than 2") cork and the bottle probably has a deep punt (indentation in the bottom for collecting the sediment).

In another link

Some of my best luck in finding bargains has been to examine the packaging. A distressed winery will use the same packaging, sans label, it has on hand rather than trying to find small quantities of something else. Look for heavy glass bottles with a punt (the indentation on the bottom), long metallic capsules rather than flimsy plastic, and long corks. These can add more than a buck to the cost of goods and are indications that this wine was made by an upmarket producer and originally intended for a premium market

Interesting ... heavy glass, punt, long corks, metalic capsules.

Any other clues when searching the bargain wine and 99 cent stores that the wine was destined for greatness and not a lowly bargain bin?

Any recent changes due to screw tops and plastic corks, so to speak? Would a wine destined for aging have a screw top ... or a different type? Would it ever use a plastic cork?

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  1. I must admit that, on a statistical basis, these I'd call "external sexual vinous characteristics":

    a) heavy bottle
    b) solid capsule, eventually wax
    c) deep punt
    d) austere label
    e) long cork, no plastic, no screw cap

    do tend to correlate with good stuff inside.

    Now, having said that, would I base / have I ever based my buying on all or any of the above?

    Definitely not.

    1. both plastic corks and screw tops are becoming more popular with good wineries. Traditional corks are not particularly reliable and these alternatives better protect the product. From what I understand (from speaking with wine reps back when I used to serve), many, maybe even most, wineries would prefer to switch to screw tops since they would lose less product to bad corks, but many fear the traditional association of screw tops with bad wine.

      Also, I thought that longer corks were a European tradition, as opposed to being better or worse. However, I have no memory of where I heard that, so it may just be crazy ramblings.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nc213

        Longer corks are more expensive made with higher grades than shorter corks. They are used for wines meant to last a decade or more.

        A number of wineries have had poor results with long-term stability with plastic corks and only use them for wines that will be consumed in the short term.

      2. It is refreshing to hear that I am not mistaken in my understanding of screw topped wine. I purchased a screw-topped wine last year on the recommendation of a friend and it was absolutely excellent. I then purchased a bottle for each of my friends for Christmas and got a lot of strange looks when they saw the screw top. I wanted to crawl into the floor. You would have thought I bought them Boon Farms Strawberry wine!

        Several of them did come back later and say they enjoyed the wine, but I do have to wonder if the perception of screw-topped wine is sometimes enough to put people off a possibly great bottle of wine.

        15 Replies
        1. re: Nestra

          The Stelvin-type enclosure is getting more common by the week. I will miss my corks, being something of a purist, but I have to admit that for my daily whites, I have not taken back 1 btl. that had a screw-top, of some sort. I was averaging 1.5 btls./case of Conundrum, but they went Stelvin about 3 years ago. Not one btl. in that time!

          Guess I'll just have to get over it and learn to love the Stelvin.


          1. re: Bill Hunt

            I've been seeing trade articles to the effect that screwcaps have their own set of possible contaminant producers. One article was about a major wine competiiton in the UK where they counted something like 5% 'bad' bottles with screwcaps and suggested it was due to coatings inside the caps. Another piece was about a phenomenon in which the total LACK of oxygen exchange had a negative effect on the wine (no comparison with plastic corks was made). There was no mention of possible involvement in these theories by the Portuguese Cork Producers Association. :o)

            1. re: Midlife

              The oxygen transfer has been the "stickler," that I am aware of. Regarding contamination from Stelvin-type enclosures, well, that is new to me. Thanks for sharing.


              1. re: Bill Hunt

                Randall Graham said in an interview that there is some oxygen exchange, comparable to a magnum or double magnum.

                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  If oxygen transfer is a problem, it is so only for wines that require several decades of aging.

                  Sound corks are virtually impermiable to liquids and gasses (see Peynaud). That said, there is no denying some exchange of gasses between the contents of the bottle and the outside takes place, probably around the cork, not through it. However, the amount of gas/liquid exchange varies widely from cork to cork, which gives the lie to the notion that a specific amount of oxygen transmission is essential to wine aging. And the amount that does occur in cork-stoppered bottles is thought to be insignificant compared with the amount of oxygen introduced at the time of bottling. Also, aging is generally considered to be a reductive process.

                  "The best information available suggests a soundly cork-stoppered wine bottle may allow access on the order of 0.1mL of O2/L/year. Thus, it would take about 60 years to be equivalent to one saturation before the wine was bottled! This is considered essentially anaerobic. Eventually a cork will fail. Ullage develops and the wine at some point rapidly declines. For a time, however, bottle aging or anaerobic storage in any similar container contributes new flavor effects, greater complexity and interest, and increased quality, at least in certain wines in the perception of discerning consumers." –Principles and Practices of Winemaking, Roger B. Boulton et al.

                  "The major difference between bottle aging and bulk aging is that bottle aging is carried on (except for the first weeks after bottling) practically in the absence of oxygen. ... In regard to cork, when kept compressed in the bottle neck and wet by touching the wine inside the bottle, it is practically impermeable to liquids and air. ... The process of aging will occur eventually in a perfectly sealed wine. –Concepts in Wine Chemistry, Yair Margalit

                  1. re: carswell

                    "the amount that does occur in cork-stoppered bottles is thought to be insignificant compared with the amount of oxygen introduced at the time of bottling."

                    What determines the amount of "oxygen introduced at the time of bottling"? What does "introduced" mean here? This is interesting stuff but suggests, at least to me, that this is not a particularly well-known piece of information...... at least in the context in which I'm perceiving it.

                    1. re: Midlife

                      "What determines the amount of 'oxygen introduced at the time of bottling'? What does "introduced" mean here?"

                      Let me begin by stressing that I'm not a bottling line expert. (Not for the first time, I wish Yaniger hung around here.)

                      Oxford Companion to Wine: "Until recently, the high-speed, efficient bottling lines used for everyday wine subjected the wine to considerable aeration..." My understanding is also that even the bottling lines for more rarefied wines also introduced a measure of oxygen, much of it in the headspace between the wine and the cork. I can't provide data here and, anyway, the amount of oxygen would probably vary enough from operation to operation to make such data useless. Certainly new-fangled bottling lines, especially for white wines, minimize exposure to air.

                      Unfortunately, I don't have a context for the Boulton quote -- I don't own the book but saved the quote from a long-gone post on another board. Rightly or wrongly, I've always taken the "saturation" in the quote to mean the exposure to oxygen that occurred during normal bottling.

                      The important point, however, is that oxygen transfer is not an issue for screwcapped wines intended to be consumed in the first few decades of their lives. From Jamie Goode's *The Science of Wine*: "Is there an oxidative component to desirable red-wine ageing? The AWRI's Peter Godden thinks that there is. ... 'However, none of this should be taken to mean that it is desirable for oxygen to permeate through a closure,' adds Godden. 'Wines at bottling may well have absorbed enough oxygen for these reactions to proceed post-bottling.' ... Richard Gibson agrees. 'I am inclined to think that bottle maturation is essentially anaerobic,' he told me."

                      1. re: carswell

                        Am I missing something here, or does what you're offering suggest that the entire cork debate is meaningless? As have most people, I'd presume....... I've heard and read tons of material supporting the 'theory'(?) that the cork closure is an integral part of the aging process of wines capable of it. Rather than changing my whole thought process on this subject may I assume that there's an equal or larger base of opinion on the opposing side?

                        1. re: Midlife

                          Most of the winemakers, with whom I have spoken, indicate that to *them* the last chapter on this situation has yet to be written. As I understand, there is much testing on the "aging" of wines under various closures, and most of these folk have not seen a definitive report published. Now, they are winemakers, not scientists (at least I do not know of any, who are. Maybe a rocket-scientist, but not as might be needed to get to the bottom of this problem), so they are waiting for the final, definitive results, before they put everything in their portfolios under Stelvin.

                          Some of the taste-tests, cited on, and reported in, indicate that some reds still maintained their fruit characteristics with age, under Stelvin, but had noticably less integrated aspects, as opposed to the same wine, "under cork."

                          The debate rages. I assume that non-cork closures are going to be seen more often. I welcome the lack of TCA, but will miss the cork.


                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            Bill, the thing about this that is so interesting to me is the notion that cork is NOT NECESSARY for bottle aging, not just that stelvin is a valid closure for most wine (which is what I see most often, and temd to agree with). I don't know if I've been sheltered on this subject, but it sounds pretty radical to me. I posted something on alt,food,wine to see what some of those guys think. Initial responses are not registering major distress, so maybe I just never caught the nuance that the cork wasn't that critical in the aging process?

                            1. re: Midlife

                              Unfortunately, I do not have first-hand experience with this. Yeah, this old-guy likes the whole aspect of wine, including cork. However, as stated in some earlier posts to this thread, I have reduced my TCA contaminated house-whites greatly. I'm rather with my winemaker acquaintences, in that I'll wait to see what shakes out. Just thinking about some of the reds in the cellar, all with corks, makes me shudder. That being said, I've only had two, older reds with TCA in the past few years. 99.9% of my reds are under cork, so the threat holds.

                              Until the major-players in CA, FR, IT, ES and some other major producing areas, embrace the Stelvin-type closure for their age-worthy wines, my jury is still out.

                              Who knows, my cork collection might one day bring more than my wine!!!

                              Good topic though,

                              1. re: Midlife

                                You might also find the following chapter from Tyson Stelzer's *Screwed for Good* to be of interest:

                            2. re: Midlife

                              "...does what you're offering suggest that the entire cork debate is meaningless?"

                              Well, it's not meaningless since the data are hard to come by, with the result that no definitive conclusions can be drawn. But the current thinking among many researchers and specialists, at least as I understand it from my reading and discussions with ITB types, is that oxygen transfer is probably not a viable argument in favour of corks. According to Goode, Richard Gibson "suggests that, with Australian Riesling [experimentally screwcapped bottles of which date back at least a couple of decades], changes have been documented in screwcapped wines that are not oxidative, that the wines are not locked in time. 'With reds, the question is vexed,' he says. 'I think that the key is to ensure maturation before the wine goes into the bottle.' He suggests that getting the anthocyanin poymerization along track before bottling is one of these important steps. [Peter] Godden adds, 'There are certainly some age-worthy red wines that have been under screwcap for three years or so, which are looking fine. We obviously don't know what they will look like after ten years until we get there, but personally I will be surprised if major problems develop, if they are not evident after three years."

                              Assuming that wines do not require oxygen transfer to age gracefully, the main issue with respect to screwcaps is their longevity: will they maintain their integrity for decades, how long will it be until they fail? The experiments with Australian Riesling indicate that two or three decades is not a problem, and screwcap technology has evolved considerably since the first of those Rieslings were bottled. The jury's still out on the suitability of screwcaps for wines with potential lifespans of 50 or 60 years, and it probably will be for decades to come.

                              1. re: carswell

                                Anyone doing any experimentation or prognostication on the glass stoppers that are beginning to appear on some wines? I guess the iussue there will be the same..... long term effectiveness of the closure.

                                I've seen them on two American wines so far. Sineann (Orgeon) and Leal (Hollister, CA) and there was an article on them in Wine Specttaor sometime last year. I have a collection of corks (all materials) and a tongue-in-cheek bowl of screwtops. May have to start a third one for these things.

                                1. re: Midlife

                                  Lots of discussions on Mark Squires' board about this.

              2. Any winery can spend a few bucks on a three-pound bottle. It's often a sign of a second- or third-rate winery trying to get a premium price for an overoaked, unbalanced wine. And the damned things won't fit in standard racks.

                Stelvin screwcaps are increasingly a sign of a winery that cares more about quality than pandering to consumers' misguided / outdated notions.

                All else being equal, I'll always go for a normal bottle and a screwcap.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  "Any winery can spend a few bucks on a three-pound bottle. It's often a sign of a second- or third-rate winery trying to get a premium price for an overoaked, unbalanced wine."

                  With the caveat that in Europrean countries especially, certain styles of bottle just go with the territory. Often for no good reason, just because that's how it's "always" been. The producers mostly couldn't change even if they wanted to without causing a disproportionate stir.

                  Basically IMO, judging a wine by its bottle or even label (except for really tacky &^$%) is even less useful than judging a book by its cover.

                  1. re: MikeG

                    There's a difference between a traditional Bordeaux bottle and the silly oversized, overweight ones I'm talking about.

                    I've had some good wine in silly bottles, but they're usually a bad sign.

                2. Do keep in mind the original context of the advice you clipped above. The first was trying to determine whether an unknown wine was intended for the cellar and meant to be aged. The other was how to figure out whether an unknown wine with a distressed price might contain loftier juice. The packaging or etiquette is an indication of the winemaker's intentions and targeted price-point since these impact the bottom line. It is not a guarantee of quality in the bottle. But when I see a $2 (vs. 50¢) dress on a wine marked down to $5, it tells me that the bottle was meant to retail for $30+ and I might make that bet.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    A bottle that wholesales for $2 empty tells you that the marketing people intended the wine to retail for $30 or more, but not whether the winemaker had the grapes, skill, and budget to make a wine worth that price.

                    So absolutely, on a $5 wine at someplace like the Grocery Outlet, it might be a good sign. At a wine shop charging regular retail price ... maybe the opposite.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Thanks, Melanie. I know it wasn't the correct context but it was all I could find on the subject on the site and I thought I'd ask to see how much of a factory the dress is ... cool ... another new word ... dress.