Like a pro: If you're comfortable pouring wine sommelier-style then go for it.
Like a pro: If you're comfortable pouring wine sommelier-style then go for it. Photo: Bryan Charlton

Cathy Gowdie

When pouring wine, is it correct to hold a wine bottle by its base with your thumb in the indentation? I see waiters do this but when I try it I'm not confident about my grip.

The indentation to which you refer is called a punt, and theories about its origins and purpose abound like rumours in the betting ring on a sunny Saturday at Randwick or Caulfield. Many believe the punt was designed to improve a bottle's stability in the days when glass was hand-blown and the bases of bottles were not perfectly flat. Others suggest it strengthens the bottle's structural integrity; this is important for sparkling wine bottles because their contents are under pressure, but it's not such an issue for still wines. Some argue that it helps consolidate sediments - but then again, sediments collect on flat bases, too.

Punts add weight to bottles, which many drinkers associate with better wine, for no especially good reason. Wine producers know this, and may choose to buy bottles with punts to create or reinforce perceptions of quality.

My own theory has long been that punted bottles are the wine world's answer to the Wonderbra: they make their contents look bigger than they really are. This may lead to disappointment when the level in the bottle leads the unwary drinker to think there are two glasses left, only to learn, dammit, that there is in fact one glass and a super-sized indentation.

Not all bottles have punts, and they are often too shallow to give you much of a grip. If you're comfortable sticking your thumb in there, sommelier-style, feel free but don't feel compelled: there's nothing especially ''correct'' about it, and attempting to look like a pro can produce the opposite effect if you spill wine or drop the bottle.

Just wrap your hand around the bottle - as you would any other bottle - and pour away. Anywhere from about halfway down is fine; you want your hand to be well below the bottle's ''shoulder''.

Avoid holding a wine bottle by the neck, which is undeniably uncouth, and if you're pouring for other people, do them the courtesy of holding the bottle in a way that lets them see the label.