How to Order Wine, Without the Stress

The Dreaded Carte des Vins

Now that the restrictions are easing a bit and we are all allowed out to restaurants again, I thought I'd chat with you about what can be the most stressful part of any evening out. The Wine List!

Especially if it looks like the one pictured here. But there are ways to make the whole process less stressful – even, dare I say it, enjoyable.

Many restaurants now put their wine lists online, so having a quick look beforehand can help you get an idea of what you think you might like.

Also, what are you going to eat? A foodie would decide on that first and then pick the wine to match. A wine geek might do the opposite. (Or, if you're like me, you may want to see the shape of the wine glasses before deciding either!) Whichever choice comes first, make sure the other one matches up. You can complement wine and food by flavour and texture, or through a balance of sweetness and/or acidity.

If you’re going for a light fish dish for a starter and then a heavy lamb shank for a main course, it will be hard to find a bottle of wine to suit both. This is when you could explore the by-the-glass options.

The best thing to do when actually at the restaurant is to have a chat with the wine waiter (or sommelier if you're having really posh nosh!) Tell them what you usually like, what you may be eating, how much you want to spend and ask for a recommendation. Like most of us who have spent time gathering a body of, relatively, exclusive knowledge you'll usually find that they are very happy to share their expertise.

Obviously, you need to be wary of someone trying to sell you an expensive bottle, that you don't really want. Whilst price mark-ups on restaurant wine lists vary considerably, recent research by economists at the London School of Economics and University of Sussex business school found no evidence to support the long-held ‘urban myth’ of the second cheapest wine being the most overpriced.

The days of sommeliers being overbearing, judgemental snobs are (hopefully) long behind us, but getting the pronunciation right will show him you mean business.

So let's go through a few basics.

Firstly, the most important one... Riedel - rhymes with needle. Actually, there are a few basic pronunciation rules in most European languages that will help get your tongue around the names of even unfamiliar wines.

German

  • "ie" is pronounced "ee"
  • "ei" is pronounced "eye"
  • "r" (at the beginning of a word) sounds like gargling
  • "r" (at the end of a word) sounds like "uh"
  • "ch" sounds like a cat hissing
  • ß is just a "ss" sound
  • "j" sounds like the English "y"
  • "w" sounds like the English "v"
  • "v" sounds like the English "f"

German doesn't really go in for silent letters (pepper really is pfeffer), including an "e" at the end of a word. Enunciate it!

French

When compared to the English language, French has a more distinct sound and a flat intonation. The stress is mostly even except for the last syllable which is given a little bit more of an emphasis.

  • "c" before "e" or "i" sounds like "s"
  • "c" elsewhere it sounds like "k"
  • "ç" sounds like "s"
  • "ch" sounds like "sh"
  • "g" before "e" or "i" sounds like "s" in "measure"
  • "g" elsewhere sounds like "g" in "go"
  • "h" is silent
  • "j" sounds like "s" in "measure"
  • "qu" or "q" sound like "k"
  • "r" sounds like gargling
  • "s" at the beginning of a word sounds like "s"
  • "s" between two vowels, it sounds like "z"

Except for c, f, l, and r, consonants are usually not pronounced when it is the last letter of the word.

Spanish

Unlike French, in Spanish the emphasis is on the second to last syllable. "Bar-ce-LLO-na"

Do not pronounce the letter "h" when it’s at the beginning of a word.

"ñ" is equivalent to gn in Italian, as in “lasagna.”

"v" and "b" have the same pronunciation, but it changes depending on their position in a word. At the beginning of a word it's "b", in the middle of a word, especially in-between vowels, it’s a "v"

The English sound for the letter "j" doesn’t exist in Spanish, it's a hard "H". Think Jose, but not Mourinho, he's Portuguese, so pronounced Joe-say.

Italian

One thing that sets Italian apart from other languages is that the pronunciation rules are absolutely constant and it is completely phonetic.

"C" if followed by an "e" or an "i", will be pronounced like the "ch" in cheese. If followed by an "h", it will sound like the "c"’ in cut.

"sc" followed by an "e" or an "i", is "sh"

Wine names

Got all that?

Good, let's try a few wines, phonetically.

  • Albariño: Ahl vah REE nyoh.
  • Blanc du Bois: BLAHNK du bwah.
  • Blaufrankisch: Blouw FRANN-keesh.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Kab-er-nay soh-VIN-yohn.
  • Chianti: KEE-ahn-tee.
  • Fumé Blanc: FOO-may BLAHN.
  • Gewürztraminer: Guh-VERTZ-tra-mean-er.
  • Grüner Veltliner: Grew-ner velt-LEE-ner.
  • Lagrein: Lah-GRAYN.
  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo: Mon-tae-pul-chee-AH-noh dah-BRUTE-so.
  • Montrachet: Mon-rah-shay.
  • Moscato: Mohs-kaa-toh.
  • Nebbiolo: Neh-Bee-YOH-loh.
  • Pinot Grigio: Pee-noh Gree-joe.
  • Pinot Noir: PEE-noh nwar.
  • Rioja: REE-oh-hah.
  • Spätburgunder: Sh-pate-boor-gun-der.
  • Sangiovese: SAN-joe-veh-se.
  • Viognier: Vee-oh-nee-aye

I do have to admit to occasionally deliberately mispronouncing wines just to wind up a wine snob, but it usually backfires as I then end up getting a lecture on the correct pronunciation. I really must stop doing that!

Hopefully I've told you a few things you didn't know and made the Carte des Vins a little less scary. And if you're buying, I'll have a pwee fwee say!