I’m not a natural with languages. My editors will tell you I’m still mastering English. Like many Americans, when I was first learning about wine, the idea of pronouncing words like Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Gewürztraminer gave me hives.
For beginners, it’s a lot more fun to drink the stuff than to pronounce it. Many of us end up taking the challenge, of course, and try to learn the many languages of wine, but it’s not easy for everyone. I have a cousin who loves wine and travels all over the world but will forever call it ZinfanDALE. Merlot ends with a hard T for many casual drinkers, and “Peanut Noir” has become a popular wine with Americans in recent years.
And those are the easy wines.
I used to think French wine words were the hardest. Not that Château Latour is tough but once you get to Beau-Séjour-Bécot or Chambolle-Musigny, your tongue knots up with all those damned hyphens. I’m still a bit sloppy with Pichon-Longueville-Comtesse de Lalande, and I’ve actually been there. Once I heard two wine writers argue over the pronunciation of Haut-Brion. Keep that in mind the next time someone calls it “Château Hot Brian.” Happens to the best of us.
It doesn’t get any easier in the rest of the wine world. The Australians try to blame the Aborigines for wine place names like Wrattonbully and Nuriootpa, but I’m convinced that it’s all part of an elaborate Aussie drinking game. And Albariño, that tasty little Spanish white, is so easy to say, rolling off the tongue once you learn it, but whenever I say the region it hails from, Rías Baixas, I end up dribbling on my face.
But when it comes to genuine, smack-your-forehead exasperation, nobody outdoes the Germans. Anyone who labels a wine Trockenbeerenauslese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Wehlener Sonnenuhr is just messing with our heads. Americans would buy a lot more of those crisp German Rieslings if the names didn’t sound like verbal abuse.
The language of a country often sounds peculiar to foreign ears, and I’m not suggesting that anyone apologize for that. Even Trockenbeerenauslese is preferable to “dry berry selection,” its literal English translation, and certainly it sounds more exotic, more romantic.
But in the hands of some, wine becomes almost like idol worship and language creates a sort of hierarchy. You failed the pronunciation quiz—No soup for you! If you can’t say Grüner Veltliner you don’t deserve a glass! It’s not that explicit, perhaps, but wine beginners sense the snub nonetheless.
How then do we help new drinkers handle these linguistic nightmares? It’s not just a matter of education, it seems to me. Pronunciation guides abound in books and on the web and that hasn’t solved it. Maybe we should go Pavlovian and whack the snobs on the wrist with a ruler whenever they act up. That’s certainly tempting, even if it isn’t effective.
I’m open to suggestions. What say you? And in the meantime, while we get our hands around this issue, let’s just kick back and let new drinkers enjoy their wine first, and leave the lessons for later.
That’s certainly better than rolling our eyes whenever someone calls it “Savage-non Blank.”
And just to keep the wine nerds happy …
Today’s blog was brought to you by the following words:
Megghen Driscol — St. Helena, CA — February 2, 2011 12:32pm ET
James Gunter — Texas — February 2, 2011 1:50pm ET
Jamie Sherman — Sacramento — February 2, 2011 5:02pm ET
Kc Tucker — Escondido, CA USA — February 2, 2011 5:17pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — February 2, 2011 5:54pm ET
Sean Calder — Vancouver, Canada — February 2, 2011 6:40pm ET
Andrew Hoover — Connecticut — February 3, 2011 9:13am ET
David Rossi — Napa, CA, USA — February 3, 2011 9:56am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — February 3, 2011 12:49pm ET
Greg Dunbar — Seattle, WA, USA — February 3, 2011 6:56pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — February 3, 2011 7:16pm ET
Scott Ercit — Canada — February 4, 2011 6:50am ET
Sussanah Nolan — Brooklyn, NY — February 4, 2011 1:01pm ET
Victor Alvarez — Placerville, CA USA — February 4, 2011 4:31pm ET
Mairin Ui Mhurchu — West of Ireland — February 5, 2011 4:19pm ET
Karl Wittstrom — Santa Margarita California — February 5, 2011 6:09pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — February 5, 2011 8:13pm ET
Matilde Parente — Indian Wells, California, United States — October 23, 2012 12:19pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions