Saturday, February 24, 2007

Pouilly-Fuissé - What'd you Say?

OK, enough whining and complaining about bad wine, bad expensive wine in restaurants, and bad wine tasting. Back to actually learning something about wine.

Today's lesson is on wine pronunciation. Most wines come from (or at least originated) someplace other than America. Strange, weird places with frighteningly unpronounceable names like "France", "Germany" and "Italy". As a result, wine names and other wine terms are usually in some indecipherable foreign language like "French", "German" or "Italian". Typical of such uncivilized cultures, none of these barbaric peoples know how to properly pronounce their own language.

That's where I come in. My purpose here is to begin to provide a guide to wine pronunciation. Not that I actually know anything about foreign languages. I grew up in San Diego (sandy AY-go) and still pronounce baja “ba-ja”. But I'm betting that, not knowing any better, you'll pronounce things however I tell you to. That ought to be worth some laughs when you pronounce Pouilly-Fuissé as “poo-yay fwee-SAY”. Like any real wine term has the word “poo” in it! “Hahahahaha!! He said ‘poo'!! What a moron!”

I've already taken the French to task about their pronunciation, but the more I learn about wine, the more I've come to realize that French might actually be the easiest of the major wine languages. Sure, at first it doesn't make any sense, but once you learn the rules, French is very consistent. If you know the rules, you can properly (as properly as any cretinous, knuckle-dragging American can) pronounce any French word. And French doesn't have many mouth-filling tongue twisters like “trockenbeerenauslese” or “Montepulciano d'Abruzzo”.

So what are the rules to pronouncing French? Well, like I said, I'm no expert (and I'm sure I'll hear from everyone who actually knows how to speak French), but I'll share what I've learned about pronouncing French wine terms.

If a word ends in a consonant, you typically don't pronounce it.
Petit Verdot = Peh-TEE Ver-DOE
Pinot Gris = PEE-noh GREE
This is true even for words ending in “s”.
Graves = grahv
Côtes-du-Rhône = Coat doo RONE
However, there are exceptions, though I'm not sure what the rules are governing them.
Pomerol = paw-mer-AWL
Pinot Noir = PEE-no NWAHR
The letters “eau” and “eaux” are both pronounced as “oh”.
Bordeaux = bor-DOH
Chateau, chateaux = sha-TOH
Double “l” is pronounced as “y”, somewhat like Spanish.
Pauillac = pow-YAK
Sémillon = say-mee-YAWN
The letters “ch” are always pronounced as “sh”, NOT a hard “ch” like in “chair”.
Chardonnay = shar-doh-NAY
Chenin Blanc - SHEN-an BLAN
The letter “e” at the end of words isn't typically pronounced unless it has an accent on it.
Grenache = gruh-NAHSH
Sancerre = sahn-SEHR
Pouilly-Fumé = poo-yay foo-MAY
The letters “ier” are pronounced “yay”. Yeah, like that makes sense.
Viognier = vee-own-YAY
Sommelier = so-mell-YAY

OK, so quiz time! See if you can properly pronounce the following words (answers at the end of the column):
  1. Pinot Meunier
  2. Sauternes
  3. Chateauneuf du Pape
  4. Bouteille
  5. Chablis
  6. Beaujolais Nouveau
Oh, and Pouilly-Fuissé? It really is pronounced as poo-yay fwee-SAY. Really. I swear.


Today's homework is simple. Try a bottle of French wine. Sure French wines (like top-notch Bordeaux) can be astronomically expensive, but they aren't all unaffordable. But remember, just as with California wine, you typically get what you pay for.

Sadly, there are few places in Chico with any kind of selection of French wines. Creekside Cellars has a few lonely bottles, but not near enough (hint, hint). The best selection, poor as it is, is at Cost Plus World Market.

Answers (Note: print upside down at the bottom of the column):

1. PEE-no moon-YAY; 2. saw-TURN; 3. sha-toe-noof doo POP; 4. boo-TAY (“shake your bouteille, shake your bouteille”); 5. sha-BLEE; 6. boo-zho-LAY new-VOH

Wines of the Week

2003 Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône

Côtes-du-Rhônes are the poor brothers to top Rhône Valley wines, like Chateauneuf du Pape and Côte-Rôtie. I've yet to find a Côtes-du-Rhône that I've fallen in love with – typically, I find them a bit on the thin side. But they're a real bargain compared to other Rhône wines. This wine started out a bit thin, but after two hours of decanting, it was nearly as good as the Chateauneuf du Pape, listed below. Intense honeyed aromas, and a great explosion of floral, honeysuckle flavors. Definitely needs decanting. For the price, it's totally worth trying, and it's definitely different than your typical California fruit bomb. Available at Cost Plus for $11.99. 3.75 stars.

2003 Barons de Rothschild Reserve Speciale Pauillac

Ooh...a Lafite Rothschild! That's like a $400 bottle of wine, right? Well, hardly. The top Chateaux of Bordeaux have discovered what American wineries have discovered: you can sell several grades of wine under your label and make truckloads of money. Trust me, this wine has virtually no relation to their top label. This wine started with earthy aromas of damp cellar and stinky cheese, and developed into a wine with dark, dried fruits and an dried herb finish. Very Bordeaux. If you want to taste Bordeaux on a budget, you could do a lot worse. Needs at least an hour of decanting to reach its full potential. Cost Plus had a couple of different vintages of this wine. Though I haven't tasted it, I'd avoid the 2002 on general prinicples, since that was a terrible year in Bordeaux. Available at Cost Plus for $19.99. 3.5 stars.

2001 Guigal Chateauneuf du Pape

Ranked #41 of the top 100 wines of 2003 by Wine Spectator, this is one of the best wines I've ever had. Amazingly smooth, with sophisticated, yet understated fruit. A very complex wine that develops an incredible, mouth-filling floral character when decanted for a couple of hours. You've never tasted anything like this. If you've never had a serious wine, this is a great place to start. It's a waste of time to drink this wine without decanting it. It needs two hours of decanting to reach its peak. Hard to find, but available at Creekside Cellars for $41.99. Ouch! – but worth it. 5 stars.


Pavel314 said...

In French class some 50 years ago the rule on pronouncing consonants at the end of a word was "Careful"

The consonants in the English word "careful" (c, r, f, and l) are the only ones sounded at the end of a French word.

Pavel314 said...

The rule in French class 50 years ago was "careful". Only the four consonants in that word (c, r, f, and l) are pronounced at the end of a French word.