How Do You Pronounce Foreign Wine Names?

Do you Americanize wine names or use the authentic pronunciation?
Oct 18, 2012

In the past year, I've noticed an odd thing bubble up in pop music: artists talking about drinking wine they know nothing about. It happens in Frank Ocean's "Super Rich Kids" ("too many bottles of this wine we can't pronounce") and in André 3000's guest verse on Rick Ross's "Sixteen" ("we eat until our belly aches and then go and grab the finest wine and drink it like we know which grape and region it came from.")

Maybe two isn't quite an official phenomenon, but it does make a strange blip in an otherwise strong current of wine name-dropping fashionability in pop music (see: Cristal, Santa Margherita, Ace of Spades). The songs involve too many layers of role playing to know how Ocean or André 3000 personally feel about wine, but Ocean—or Ocean's character—got one thing right: Wine names can be maddeningly tricky to pronounce.

Evidence suggests that wineries would do well to not make it any easier: A recent study from Brock University found that people were more likely to pay a higher price for wines with harder-to-pronounce names.

Even though we apparently enjoy paying for the privilege of not being able to pronounce a brand, I have to say that, on the consumer end, having to say an unknown wine name out loud can be a humbling experience. (My colleague Tim Fish wrote an excellent piece on this last year.) Compounding the problem is that what is "correct" to say in the country from which the wine is from may not be the "correct" Americanized version.

This problem is not specific to wine. I grew up in Hawaii, where there's a big Japanese influence, so something like karaoke is pronounced the Japanese way, "kah-rah-oh-kay," with an "r" sound that lands between an "l" and an "r," what the pronunciation guides call a "retroflex flap." When I moved to the mainland I found out that Americans say "care-ee-oh-kee," which I initially found to be kind of hilarious; over time, I just got worn down, and now, at least when I'm on the mainland, I pronounce it that way too.

With wine names that have different Americanized and original pronunciations, I can see the argument for either side, and I'm generally not one to condemn. My No. 1 rule when it comes to wine is "don't make people feel bad." Life is too short.

But when you have to make a choice, I am genuinely curious: Which way do you pronounce wines? The American way, or foreign way? Please leave your thoughts in the comments. Context is a factor, obviously, but I usually fall in line with American pronunciations. I've included some examples below and also threw in some American wineries with foreign words in their names. (These aren't dictionary-regulation pronunciations, but rendered as best we can phonetically.)

French Wines that are Sometimes Pronounced the American Way

Bollinger [French: Bohl-ahn-ZHAY, Americanized: BOHL-in-zhur]

Taittinger [French: Tay-tahn-ZHAY, Americanized: TAH-tin-zhur]

Romanée-Conti [French: Ro-mah-NAY Kohn-TEE, Americanized: Ro-mah-KNEE CON-tee]

American Wineries with Foreign Words that are Pronounced the American Way

A.P. Vin [Ay Pee VINN]

Chateau St. Jean [SHA-tow SAYNT GENE]

Chateau Ste. Michelle [SHA-tow SAYNT Mee-SHELL]

Tip: Search wine videos at WineSpectator.com or YouTube if you want guidance for how to pronounce tricky names. You may not find the "correct" pronunciation, but if you copy someone, at least you won't be the only person in history to say it incorrectly.

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