Jed Clampett and the French
Learning about wine can be scary and intimidating, with plenty of opportunities for you to look like Jed Clampett. My mission here is to help you avoid the more basic wine faux pas, and get you well on your way to being a wine snob in your own right!
First off, you have to worry about looking like a cretin in front of your wine snob friends (assuming you have any). Say you take a slug of Gallo Twin Valley Merlot and say something idiotic like, "hey, that's pretty good!" I can absolutely guarantee you that every wine snob within 50 miles is going to sneer and look down their nose to you - that is, if they even bother to acknowledge your pitiful existence.
So, what did you do wrong? To the wine snob, you made two fundamental mistakes. First, any wine with the name "Gallo" in it simply can't be any good, no matter how much you like it. Gallo, which has recently attempted to move into the more rarified circles of "fine" wine, will forever be dogged by their jug wine history. If you like Gallo wines (and there is nothing wrong with that), hide them from the wine snobs. Second, you chose a merlot. Tsk, tsk. After Miles (lead character in hit wine movie Sideways) said, "if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!", merlot's reputation fell dramatically along wannabe wine snobs.
OK, so we're off to a good start: hide the Gallo and hide the merlot.
The next thing you have to worry about is the fact that the French either don't know how to spell or can't pronounce their own language. I mean, who would ever guess that "beaujolais" is actually pronounced "boo-zho-lay"? Or that "Pauillac" is pronounced "pow-yak"? I mean, come on! Even worse, the French just love to throw away letters at the end of words. The last four letters in "Bordeaux" are pronounced as "o". Huh? Why not just spell it "borddo" or something? AND, you've got to keep in mind that if a word ends in a consonant, you typically don't pronounce it. If you were thinking that merlot was pronounced "mer-lot", you are in deep, deep trouble. That's right, it's "mer-low".
I'm not sure if the French did this deliberately because they hate English speakers or because they enjoy their own wine just a little too much, but regardless, French wine and French pronounciation aren't going away any time soon.
So! Let's have a little quiz.
Pinot Gris = "pee-no gree" (a variety of white wine grape)
Viognier = "vee-own-yay" (an increasingly popular white wine grape variety)
Coteaux du Languedoc = "coat-toe doo lang-eh-dock" ("Slopes of the Languedoc"; a wine region in southern France.)
Chateauneuf du Pape = "sha-toe-noof doo pop" ("The Pope's New House" - I kid you not - a small town and type of red wine from south central France.)
Practice inserting these words randomly into sentences, and looking sternly down your nose as you pronounce them with a pompous French accent and you'll be a wine snob in no time!
The reality, of course, is that wine can be complicated if you really want to understand it. It comes from France, Spain, Germany, and Italy - regions with hundreds of years of strange and quirky wine history. And now that wine is global, you have to deal with California, Argentinian, Australian and South African wines as well. In the coming months I'll do my best to help demystify some of the confusion, and hopefully taste some yummy wines in the process.