Wine 101: Basics in Grape Pronunciation

So you've read the wine list and decided on a glass; say it's something you've never tried before — you're feeling adventurous (good for you). Then it comes time to read the alien word out loud in front of an audience. Instead you point it out to your sommelier (it's suh-mel-YAY). Wine is one big realm of intimidation, and then you have to worry about your pronunciation. You may shrug and power through it, and that's fine too. But I'd argue that there's no easier way to look like you know what you're talking about, whether it's an adjustable wrench, charcuterie, or the small Spanish town your wine comes from, than knowing what something is called and pronouncing it properly.

While taking wine classes as someone who spoke only English, the pronunciation for terms, grapes, and regions was a daunting beast. Trockenbeerenauslese? Flagey-Echézeaux? Vosne-Romanée? It often becomes more than just a lesson in language; it becomes a lesson in history. Take Alsace as an example. Technically a region in France, but with a history equally rooted in Germany. The silent consonants and soft endings of French, more often than not, give way to the hard phonetics of German. Then there's Trentino-Alto Adige in the Italian Alps, or Basque Country in Spain. As a twenty-first century sommelier, I can say I'm very thankful for the Internet.

Below are a few grapes grown in Canada. While some of these words may seem basic, you'd be surprised how many people struggle in a restaurant when it comes to ordering them:

Viognier - (vee-yoh-N'YAY ) -This is probably the one I hear butchered most often (vee-OG-ner?), and for good reason. There are all kinds of consonants in there you have to silence.

Sémillon - (seh-mee-yhon) - If you're in Australia and talking about the grape being grown in the Hunter Valley, sure, it's cool to read it just as it appears. Generally, everyone else in the world pronounces it like the French and skips right over those L's.

Gewürztraminer - (guh-VOORTS-truh-MEE-ner) - It makes life a whole lot easier, if you remember that the Germans pronounce W like we say V.

Syrah - (sih-RAH) - While, I think, most people have this one covered, my mom struggles constantly with it. Oddly (and unknown to her), she pronounces it as they do in the Hunter Valley (she-RAH).

Tempranillo - (TEM-pruh-NEE-yo) - Double L's in Spanish are pronounced like a Y.


Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.

Let us know what you think!
Back to Top