Wine snobbery and pro-nun-ci-at-ion
I went to visit my parents in Northern Ireland last year for Christmas and knowing that I really love my wines, my dad had really pushed the boat out and got some nice bottles in for Christmas dinner. He couldn’t wait to show them to me, a Riesling from Australia and a rather nice claret. So a few hours before dinner, he asked me if I would go and stick the Riesling in the fridge. Now, here’s the thing…
He pronounced it ‘Rye-sling’.
He always does. My parents love Riesling. But they pronounce it ‘Rye-sling’. They always have. And I stopped correcting them years ago, because correcting them didn’t seem to help. So I gritted my teeth, said nothing, drank my Rye-sling and later watched Toy Story 3 with my nephews and niece. I had almost forgotten about the incident until later on when my dad remarked that he had quite enjoyed the Ryes-ling but he hadn’t particularly enjoyed the claret. I still didn’t correct him, but I sat and seethed all the same. Later on I realised why – I wasn’t angry with him, he genuinely doesn’t care how it ought to be pronounced. I was angry with myself. Had I become such a ridiculous wine snob that I actually cared about mis-pronounced grape names?
But it wasn’t just my dad. I have a friend that loves Sauvignon Blanc and wanted to try something different. I bought her a Viognier from a local wine merchant. Of course, every time it was mentioned after that, she pronounced it ‘Voi-nee-ay’ instead of ‘Vee-on-ee-ay’ while I gnashed my teeth and muttered that I had created a monster. And she loved the wine, and has since been on a crusade to track down every single Voi-nee-ay she can get her hands on, so it’s not as if it’s a word she never uses.
Again, why do I care?
But I couldn’t help it. She had identified that the ‘er’ at the end was pronounced ‘ay’ so she understood that it was a French word. She had heard me say it a ridiculous number of times (some might say, I thought with sufficient repetition she would become hypnotised into pronouncing it correctly) so why couldn’t she just get it right?
This wasn’t a new phenomenon for me, and I ought to have seen it coming. Working in wine retail, I dealt with mis-pronounced wine words on a daily basis. ‘Where are your Cabinet Sauvignons?’ ‘Do you have any White Garnish?’ And then there are the ones that try to show a bit of flair and pronounce the word in what they perceive to be the accent of its country of origin… ‘Where can I find your German SHHHPPPET- lay-zas?’ (On this occasion, wiping the spit from my face, I pointed to our German section, thinking that I’d have to give them ten out of ten for effort, if nothing else.)
Then there are the wine buffoons. We all know who they are. They don’t just mis-pronounce things, they will also go round the entire shop picking up every wine to find the one with the biggest groove in the bottom of the bottle, because they once heard that ‘the bigger the groove, the better the wine’ from another buffoon and for some reason believed it blindly. But the wine buffoons are the topic of another article entirely.
Hmmph. So coming back to the point, why do I care?
Maybe it’s because I’m a terrible wine snob, and even though I try not to be, every time I hear it pronounced Rye-sling, the snobbery just rushes to the surface. Maybe it’s because I slaved over articles like ‘Flubereinigung & Winzergenossenshaft – why is German wine so misunderstood?’ and made sure I knew how to pronounce Hárslevelű so I wouldn’t look stupid at a Hungarian tasting. Maybe it’s because I can still recite the 13 Anbaugebiete of Germany off the top of my head, and the 10 Crus of Beaujolais, even though my WSET exams were over 12 years ago. Maybe it’s not the problem that other people don’t care enough about getting it right, maybe the problem is that I care too much.
To conclude this article, I think I worked it out in the end. So why did I care?
Well, I cared because I didn’t want my dad, or my friend, to have a snobbish wine merchant gnashing their teeth or laughing at them, or worse still, correcting them in a patronising manner because they pronounced it Rye-sling or Voi-nee-ay. And I think I learned something. It doesn’t really matter how you pronounce the words (although listening to somebody in the know won’t do you any harm) – the nice thing about my dad buying the Riesling for me at Christmas was he had the confidence to stroll into a proper wine shop and ask for a really good Rye-sling that would complement our Christmas day starter. And the nice thing about my friend is she has enthusiastically tracked down more Voi-nee-ays than I have, with great confidence, because she knows what she likes. And both of them support our industry, and most importantly, our independent wine merchants.
I’m going on holiday to see my parents in a couple of weeks. I know they sell some really nice Albariño locally, and I’m looking forward to tasting some. And when my dad mis-pronounces it, I’m just going to smile and be grateful that he is enjoying it.