By Kirsti Scott
A wave-worn punt on the beach is a satisfying find. These little domes are usually thick, smooth, and feel great in your hand. But where do they come from?
Ask any bottle expert about the origin and function of the indent in the bottom of a champagne bottle and they all agree…on nothing. This dome-shaped feature of modern champagne bottles and many wine bottles has a history steeped in mystery. The indent is known as a punt, kick-up, push-up, dimple, or shove-up. What follows are best guesses from those who know best on how the punt came to be and why it’s still used.
Look at any bottle, even a machine-made one, and you’ll see that the bottom is not perfectly flat, but has a rim and a center that is indented, even if only slightly. This is so that the bottle sits flat on a surface. Historically, bottles were made by glassblowers and there was a spot on the bottom where a metal rod called a pontil was attached during blowing. After the bottle was blown, the glassblower pushed up the bottom of the bottle a bit with a tool to make sure nothing stuck out and caused the bottle to rock on its base or scratch the table. As the glass cooled, there was also the possibility that it would sag a bit, and creating a kick-up reduced the possibility that it would sag as far as the bottom rim. The extra weight also helped give the bottle more stability so it was less likely to tip over during use. Punts can be found on all types of bottles, but are most pronounced on champagne and wine bottles and have been used since at least the early 17th century. The name “punt” first appeared in English in 1845.
The punt adds to the strength of a bottle, especially one that holds sparkling wine. In champagne bottles, the internal pressure of the carbon dioxide gas reaches up to 70 to 90 pounds per square inch. Since domes are one of the strongest structural shapes (like your skull, egg shells, and turtle shells), the punt likely adds to the bottle’s ability to contain that pressure. A dome distributes force evenly and is less likely to buckle than a flat piece. The bottom of the bottle is often the weakest point, so the punt helps strengthen it. This helps not only with champagne but with other liquids during shipping.
One thought is that a punt collects the sediment of a wine that is stored upright at the bottom of a bottle, creating a thick ring that is less likely to end up in your glass. Since most bottles are stored horizontally and champagne bottles are stored with the cork pointing down at an angle, this doesn’t seem likely. However, the punt does make it easy for champagne makers to rotate the champagne bottles during manufacture with just a finger and thumb.
Does the punt help cool the contents faster? With more surface area exposed to the ice or water, it just may.
Until the middle of the 20th century, there was no standard size for wine bottles. In fact, it was illegal to sell wine in bottles for centuries, as it was too easy for wine merchants to create variations in bottle capacity through things such as a larger punt or different-shaped bottles. Instead customers brought their own bottles or jugs that merchants measured and filled from a barrel. It was the only way to be certain of how much wine you were getting. In 1979, the U.S. government established 750 ml as the standard size of a wine bottle and wine producers around the world adopted the standard. Some bottle makers make the punt bigger and increase the overall bottle size to make the wine look more expensive. Looks like more wine, but it’s still 750 ml.
Punts were historically used on bottles that held more expensive wine. So, though a larger punt doesn’t change the quality of the wine inside, it can be an effective marketing tool. A heavy bottle made of thick glass with a large punt has a feeling of substance, tradition, and quality. Plus, who doesn’t think it looks cool when the server pours your wine with a thumb in the punt and one hand behind their back? Not to mention it makes a great grip when you saber your next champagne bottle.
Though there may be no practical need for a punt, they still persist. And, lucky for beachcombers, we still find these “mermaid nipples” washed up on the beach today. Ask me for more theories, and I’m just gonna have to punt on this one.
Check out some of the beautiful punts found by beachcombers around the world.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine January/February 2022 issue.
Interesting article! I found 2 very thick black glass, sparkling wine bottle punts from the 18th century, down in Port Isabel, Texas, on the mainland side where the Queen Isabella Causeway crosses over to South Padre Island, Texas. This was about 15 or 20 years ago, I was down there with a shell club friend staying in the little motel in Port Isabel right on the coast, and we went out walking along the shoreline right there. It is rocks and sand right on the tide line. I saw something black sticking out of the sand, and pulled up the thick, black punt, and then saw another one nearby! Son I have these two beachcombing treasures from the 1800s!