Say It Like You Mean It

How to pronounce unfamiliar wines

If a server butchers the pronunciation of a wine, it’s natural for a diner to pause. Does this person really know what he’s talking about?

But when the type of wine, such as Agiorgitiko – a Greek varietal grown in the southern peninsula of Peloponnese – rolls off the tongue, credibility stays intact.

As restaurants curate more budget-friendly wine lists with the help of less obvious regions, such as the Mediterranean, it’s more likely diners will be unfamiliar with the wines.  For example, the fruity, full-bodied Peloponnese varietal may look challenging to your guests, but it won’t seem Greek to them if you can say “ah-your-yeek-tee-ko” as easily as Sauvignon blanc.

Restaurant staff training helps, but other approaches are also useful – from elocution lessons that spell out the pronunciation of unfamiliar names to online tutorials and YouTube videos.

Last January, when sommelier Haunah Leia built the Mediterranean-heavy wine list at Miami’s Boulud Sud, she encountered a number of grape varietals, regions, and traditional dishes that might prove difficult for the staff to pronounce. Greek words proved particularly vexing. Can you say Moschofilero? (“mosh-ko-fe-lair-oh).”                 

“We did wine trainings with wine makers and ambassadors from their respective wine regions to reinforce the correct way of saying the varietals,” says Leia, now working on a residential, luxury mega-yacht called The World. “I also used many regional wine books and hours of Google searches to find the phonetic pronunciations for each of the grapes.” stood out as a solid resource, as well as YouTube. “I found that these were the best tools, as they provided both the phonetic spelling and the correct pronunciation for both the visual and auditory learners,” she says.

All that research resulted in a packet elocution guide broken down by region, which was distributed to the staff. She later expanded into the wines of Italy, France, Turkey and Lebanon. 

“We placed a huge emphasis on by-the-glass selections, as these would be the varietals that our team would be working with most often.” 

By simply providing access to an elocution guide, links to videos and online resources, staff could refresh their knowledge prior to service or during downtimes on their mobile devices.

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