“Let’s just get a bottle of Cab.”
Ah yes, employing the use of the safe nickname to avoid pronunciation mishaps. It is an acceptable and reliable strategy, however, it is time to up your game.
Many wine consumers steer clear of mentioning, reading or recalling the names of and/or drinking wines they cannot pronounce, but it is time to get brave and venture out. There are so many wines awaiting your curiosity.
It is rather common for wine drinkers to stay in the “safe zone,” tasting, ordering and buying the wines they know how to pronounce. It’s acceptable to shorten Cabernet Sauvignon to “Cab,” and to order “a red blend” to keep it simple and easy. Most of us avoid revealing what we do not yet know. Consider me a friendly wine guide who loves to share information..
During my time at the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center in the heart of the Yakima Valley, we sampled and sold wines from all corners of Washington state, and I picked up on consumer tendencies. At first, I thought people didn’t want to talk about unfamiliar wines. I was wrong. They want the discussion and the information, but they don’t want to START the conversation about a wine they cannot pronounce.
People would commonly point to a bottle and nonchalantly mumble, “Hmm, I haven’t seen this one before,” or, “That looks new?” I realized this was my chance to share new wines in a low-risk way.
Let’s explore pronouncing two white wines — Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner. Gewürztraminer is a grape that grows well in cooler regions such as Germany, France’s Alsace region and pockets in the Pacific Northwest, including the Columbia Gorge. The official pronunciation is: guh·vur·struh·mee·ner, but if you want to sound like a pro and make it simple, just say “guh-vurtz,” then practice the full word alone in elevators or cars. Gewürztraminer produces a remarkably fragrant wine that pairs well with Thai flavors, and helps to balance/cut spicy heat. People describe it as having a lychee aroma, and if you haven’t experienced lychee, you can buy a can of them or you can let the tail wag this dog and become familiar with the scent of Gewürz, and then you’ll recognize lychee when you smell it. Gewürz ranges from dry to sweet and is also available as sparkling.
Grüner Veltiner is pronounced “groo·ner velt·lai·nr” and is commonly abbreviated as “Grooner.” It is a crisp wine native to Austria featuring a profile of white pepper, lime and minerals. That combination makes for easy pairings with cheeses, pasta with cream sauce or a pork chop. Call it “Grooner” and sound like a pro. Serve it with appetizers, and your guests will rave about your bougie wine offerings. (To ensure ravings, teach them the pronunciation shortcut.)
For reds, let’s start with Grenache. The No. 1 mistake people make is pronouncing it “ganache” — as in the chocolate confection. It’s “Gren·ache.” It’s a grape that offers bright acidity and low tannins, which often makes for a velvety smooth wine that’s ever-so food friendly. Grenache is a dominant grape in Spain and stars in the Rhône Valley of France. An increasing number of producers in the Pacific Northwest are excelling with it, too. When I come across a good one, I stock up. Grenache is a bit tricky to grow, demanding a lot of heat and attention. Its price tag often will reflect that. I hope you will embrace Grenache.
Two red varieties that make stand-alone wines but also are found in Rhône-inspired blends with Grenache are Counoise and Mourvèdre. They can be pronounced in a variety of ways, causing confusion all around.
Counoise is officially pronounced “Coon-wahz,” but I’ve heard pros talk of it as “Coon-wah” and no one bats an eye, making it safe for you to be understood using either pronunciation. Counoise is typically blended in for its high acid/low tannin structure while adding a punch of pepper on the palate. If you find it as a single varietal, try it and ask questions. (And please alert me via email where you found it!)
Chances are that an engaged tasting room associate will eagerly answer your questions because you likely are the first person that day to ask about it. Remember, no one wants to talk about wines they cannot pronounce. You will have their full attention and probably will learn more as a result.
Mourvèdre comes with complications. The official pronunciation is “Mour·veh·druh”, but it is common to say “Moo-veh-druh”, or even “moo–ved.” The saying, “What grows together, goes together” is certainly appropriate here as Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah — all native to the Rhône — and are commonly blended into a GSM.
Of the three, Mourvèdre is least likely to be bottled as a single varietal, but it is possible to find. Your homework is to find a bottle of Mourvèdre, drink and learn some of its characteristics. There will be rewards, and the experience will help you recognize the Mourvèdre contribution to a GSM blend. Added perk: You can now more confidently discuss GSMs and not have to artfully avoid any chat about the parts.
There are more tough-to-pronounce varieties, including Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe (both common throughout the Puget Sound American Viticultural Area), plus the many ways to pronounce Cabernet. Are you inclined to put the emphasis on the first or last syllable? CAB-er-nay vs Caber-NAY? What about Sauvignon? Is it “Saw-vig-yon” or “Sew-vig-yon” to you? So many wines, so many fun things to learn and share.