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I Never Knew That! The Origin of Wine Words …

Last summer, around 7:30 pm on a Friday night, as my wife and I sped out of town for the weekend, she received a text message from a friend of ours, Chris, saying, “Ask Jeff.  What is the indentation on the bottom of a wine bottle called and why is it there?”

It seems Chris and his wife were having a small gathering of folks at their house, drinking some wine, and asking each other some head-scratching wine-related questions.

Feeling like Ken Jennings on Jeopardy, as we eased into a gas station to fill up, completely sure of my answer, walking that line between smug and confident, I responded to my wife as she responded, thumbs flying on the phone.

She texted something like – “Called a punt.  Gives structural support to clanking glass bottles when shipped overseas hundreds of years ago.”

Feeling triumphant and ready for my own glass of vino, we went on with our drive out of town and then later joked about it when we joined the nascent wine club and monthly gathering a few weeks later (this months edition hosted at Chez Lefevere and the theme is ‘Sauvignon Blanc from Around the World’).

Not satisfied with my answer, Chris also texted ChaCha, a text-based search engine and answer service that employs 1000’s of college kids as stringers.  ChaCha is, by the way, the best thing to happen to the bar bet, er, house party bet since, well, corks were invented.

They received a completely different answer.


If only I had a copy of History of Wine Words by Charles Hodgson …

If only ChaCha had a copy of History of Wine Words by Charles Hodgson …

In the most interesting and useful quick read since A Wine Miscellany by Graham Harding, Wine Words is a terrifically fascinating book on where our wine words come from.

For anybody that has read this blog for longer than a week knows, I am a non-fiction book wonk, and a big fan of understanding context to the world around me.  For the erudite wine enthusiast who loves to banter about wine administrivia in a manner that is more spirited Cliff Claven and not aloof elitism, this is your book.

Hodgson, though he has a career outside academia, is something of a professional in etymology and author of several books on word origins, in addition to being the creator of

With History of Wine Words, he has written a book that should settle scores of wine bar bets for years to come.

Set-up dictionary style, and indexed for quick access, History of Wine Words, for example, explores that mysterious punt of a bottle and explains:

… The name appeared in English in 1862, only one year after the word kick was used to describe the same bottle feature.  The best guess as to why this indentation might be called a punt is that an instrument used to make bottles was also called a punt or a pontil.  It was an iron bar … used to hold the molten glass blob as it was being formed into a bottle.  As such, it left a scar on the finished bottle that was often ground off, leaving a slight indentation.

I was wrong, even if it was an assured guess!

The book is chock full of these nuggets.  Take Sangria for example.  The book notes:

The name of the famous Spanish wine punch literally means “bleeding,” which likely refers to the color imparted by red wine … the word didn’t appear in English with the Spanish spelling until 1961, but sangaree was first cited in 1736 as the name of a popular if lowbrow punch. 

My lone complaint about this book is its price.  Available at for $17.95, its $4 or $5 higher than it should be based on similar books like the aforementioned A Wine Miscellany or Schott’s Food and Drink Miscellany.  That said, it is published by a micro-publisher and printed on demand, which likely affects the cost model given that printing costs cannot be spread out over a larger print quantity.

Despite a small price quibble, having History of Wine Words in your wine library is money well spent and that $5 is easily earned back at the next wine bar when you make a trivia bet with a friend, the knowledge you’ve gained and tucked away, ready to earn you a glass of wine.

*Disclosure*  This book was received from the publisher as a review copy


Posted in, Historical Wine Book Excerpts. Permalink | Comments (7) |


On 04/30, Vinogirl wrote:

Wine and gambling…cool!

On 05/01, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

I was once told that the punt had a small role in helping sediment/deposits to form…

On 05/01, Dylan wrote:

Jeff, ever since I started working for Tin Cross Vineyards I’ve gone through the same experiences. Words I never knew before have entered my vocabulary along with unexpected origins. I still can’t quite get over “Angel’s Share.” Thanks for the reading suggestion.

On 05/01, Jeff wrote:

Ah, Dylan.  I didn’t mention in the post, but “Angel’s Share” is one of my favorites.

Thanks for reading!


On 05/03, Jim wrote:

Google voice search on the iPhone is much, much faster than ChaCha. I have no idea how they will make money.

On 01/15, Filmokoloji wrote:

Good point. Thanks smile

On 01/15, PES 2012 Update wrote:

You absolutely right..


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