Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pretentious punts

We’re in the era of product enhancement, in case you haven’t noticed, including the pretentious punt. That's the indentation in the bottom of a wine bottle that gives the glass added strength which it rarely needs these days. Bottles with shallow punts cost less and often indicate inferior wine, whereas deep punts used to indicate quality. Often they still do, but nowadays a bottle of over-priced, over-oaked, alcoholic drek, too, can come in a Fort Knox of a bottle with a three-inch punt.

A wine bottle’s generally considered a means to an end, the world concerned only with its contents. But the bottle will outlast the wine and ends up on the kitchen table the next morning, or in the trash, to mock the reveler. The evolution of wine bottles is closely tied up with the history of wine, and questions of bottle size and shape are still subjects of debate.

Wine was first stored in amphorae that had been sealed with pitch, and then in barrels. Bottles were used only to serve wine until about 1700, when corks started appearing in bottles to keep out air and allowing wine to age and improve. But corks also dry out unless the bottles are turned on their sides, so as a result wine-bottle shapes evolved from pot-like containers to cylinders that could lie flat and be easily stacked. Presto, the wine cellar!

Over the years wine producers developed standard shapes and sizes of bottles that vary according to the origin and expected shelf life of a wine. The most common bottle size is 750 milliliters or 26 fluid ounces, but because good wine ages better in larger bottles many wines come in 1.5-liter magnums, which hold two bottles in one. Bordeaux also comes in double magnums, and in imperials, which hold about eight regular bottles. Champagne has its magnums, double magnums, jeroboams (four bottles), methuselahs (eight bottles) and salmanazars (twelve bottles).

For many, the choice of bottle size pivots more on consumption than storage considerations. Around our house standard bottles usually have wine left in them, which means putting in a rubber stopper and evacuating the air with a plastic pump. Some people consider this tacky, or ineffectual, but they’re wrong, at least on the second point. If you do it immediately after pouring, the wine – particularly reds – will be fine for a day or two.

If you abhor tackiness and the effort required to pump, a smaller bottle would save you some money from otherwise wasted wine, but half-liter bottles are proportionately more expensive and, from a producer/seller’s point of view, a pain. But half-bottles take up less storage space. And, because wine ages faster in them, some cabernets and other reds not yet ready in full-sized bottles can be drunk earlier in the smaller bottles.

Many half-bottles have the screw-on caps discussed earlier, which don't affect the taste of the wine and are cheaper and more efficient than corks. But they, like half-bottles, wine in boxes - and honest punts - lack of sex appeal.

No comments:

Post a Comment