One walks a thin line when trying to pronounce the names of wines correctly. We want to sound like we know what we’re talking about being too pretentious — if you’ve been out with someone who adopts a guttural accent to order Chardonnay, the thought of accurate wine pronunciation might fill you with dread. But it doesn’t have to (and you don’t need to speak with a throat trill, either).
Wine Pronunciation 101
Many wine names are French, and other Romance languages like Italian and Spanish follow similar pronunciation rules. Unlike English (where words have been adopted from different languages so rules about pronunciation don’t hold true across the board) French has fairly hard and fast rules when it comes to what sounds their words make.
In French, a consonant at the end of a word without a vowel after it will usually be silent, but put an e on there and the consonant should be pronounced crisply –– the difference between petit (pronounced almost like petty) and petite (peh-TEET, maybe even peh-TEET-uh if you had a French accent).
Try your hand at the pronunciations below so you’re ready for your next wine order — or, to be the one who pipes up with how that “weird German wine” is pronounced at your next dinner party.
We’ve avoided the arcane phonetic symbols used in dictionaries, and syllables have been parsed out phonetically — capitalized syllables represent the stressed syllable.
Language is Living
The English, whether through centuries of animosity with their neighbor across the channel, or an aversion to pretension in their national character, avoid pronouncing loanwords from French or any other language in any way other than how an English person would read it off a page, as if they’d received it all by missive without access to a foreign person. The American M.O., on the other hand — despite the stereotype of the “ugly American” who makes no effort to conform when abroad — is generally to sort of attempt the native accent with loan words. Americans pronounce “paella” pie∙AY∙uh while Brits say pie∙ELL∙uh, seemingly going out of their way to say PASS∙tuh (obviously PAW∙stuh to most Americans) and TACK∙oh (likewise obviously TOCK∙oh to most Americans) without a hint of how a person from where those things are from might say them.
Of course language is fluid and living, if you’ve been understood it’s probably done it’s job. Unlike the French, neither English-speaking nation has given up control of its language to an actual governing body so English belongs to its speakers. Despite what Merriam-Webster or the Associated Press might like you to believe, there really is no “technically speaking” when it comes to a constantly-evolving set of agreed-upon rules used to communicate by people around the world. But if we’re going to be fussy about it, surely the sweet spot most Americans are aiming for is pronouncing the vowel and consonant sounds as they would be in the source language, without making sounds not usually made while speaking English (such as the aforementioned “guttural” put-on of “Chardonnay”). The sometimes-complicated caveat being that when things are more associated with another country than the source of the word, that country’s preferred pronunciation should probably take precedence, like in the cases of Claret and Shiraz.
Comments are closed.