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Top 10 drinks pronunciation pitfalls

The flip side of our rich and exciting world of wine is the linguistic hurdles that can stand between you and glass of something truly special.

Many people are happy to crash through, mangling the pronunciation in a merry Anglo Saxon manner. If that doesn’t produce the desired effect, they simply repeat it more loudly.

However, for those with a less forceful personality, or simply people keen to demonstrate quietly but confidently their connoisseur credentials, it’s worth mastering some of the following challenges that can face a wine drinker.


As with dogs, it’s sometimes the smallest ones that are the most trouble. On the face of it this four letter word seems fairly innocuous, but don’t be deceived by those hoards of well dressed folk ordering “Mo-ay” in their best French accent.

Yes, the Champagne house’s founder was a French national, but that doesn’t stop his name being of Dutch extraction, and therefore pronounced with a hard “t”.

Another Champagne that follows the same rule is also helpfully heralded by an umlaut – Perrier-Jouët.


The dry style produced by that ne plus ultra of sweet wine producers, Château d’Yquem, looks innocuous enough, but hold your horses and remember your French alphabet from school.

If you feel like having an entertaining but confusing conversation, then ask the sommelier for a bottle of “Why”. Otherwise you might want to remember that the wine’s called “Ygrec”, pronounced “Ee-grek”.

Czerszegi Fűszeres

No, that’s not a swear word, it’s a Hungarian grape variety that can produce some rather attractive dry, appley white wines.

If you happen to see a bottle of this on a restaurant list or supermarket shelf then it’s worth a punt – the buyer certainly won’t have taken it on for an easy sell.

Let’s raise a glass to “Chair-siggy Foo-jeress”.


While we’re in the Pannonian plain, a quick nod to the great wines of Tokaj (don’t let that “j” throw you, it’s Tok-eye) and perhaps while we’re at it, one of this region’s main players, the prettily named Hárslevelű (Harsh-level-oo).

Also worth noting, although it makes no discernible difference to the two words’ pronunciation, is the distinction between Tokaj and Tokaji. Both are pronounced the same, but Tokaji is an adjective used when referring to wines from this region.

At least Tokaj’s main town is nice and easy to get your tongue around: Mád, or perhaps that’s how you feel after a day battling the rich but impenetrable Hungarian language. 

German wines

The ultimate bogeyman. It’s miserable to ponder how many people have been separated from these fabulous wines by the fear of pronouncing them.

The first step is not to panic at the endless jumble of vowels and consonants in your path; they’re really just a series of individual words linked together. Like standing at the top of a mountain on skis, don’t try to whizz off after the pros or you really will be in trouble. Take a deep breath and go section by section, syllable by syllable.

Altogether now: Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Scharzhofberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese. Now have a sip to reward yourself.


With the country boasting its very own alphabet, getting to grips with a Greek wine label can be a far trickier matter than mere pronunciation.

Fortunately, any producer with serious export ambitions will invariably use a script that is more likely to be understood by their customers, but that still leaves Agiorghitiko (Ah-yor-yee-ti-ko) and Xinomavro (Ksee-no-mav-ro) to tackle.

It’s worth persevering: both grapes can produce some rather classy, serious red wines.

Uitkyk & friends

The New World famously flung open the wine category to a host of new consumers who had felt excluded by the obscure villages, arcane hierarchies and inscrutable labels of the European old guard. Despite this user-friendly, marketing savvy outlook, there remain a few pronunciation pitfalls to navigate.

With around 350 years of winemaking history, South Africa often likes to boast a position straddling both the Old and New Worlds, which together with the Afrikaans language perhaps help to explain why some of its most historic estates are less beginner friendly.

Among the names to watch out for are Uitkyk (“oat-cake”), Buitenverwachting (“Boy-ten-fair-vagh-tin”, which sensibly goes by the name of Bayten in the US); Altydgedacht (Al-tid-ger-dart”), which ended up creating a label called Ralph Parker – a forebear of the current generation – for its export wines; and

Boekenhoutskloof (“Book-en-howds-kloof”), whose output is perhaps better known abroad through The Chocolate Block and Porcupine Ridge brands.


Ah yes, this old chestnut: the downfall of many a wine bore and show off.

Of course, you don’t want to mock their faux pas too loudly as it’s worth being on friendly terms with anyone ordering this Burgundian pearl.

For the record, forget those misleading “t”s and the earlier rules about Moët: it’s “Mon-rach-ay”. And yes, you would like some very much please.


As the trend for lighter, refreshing wine styles hots up, these crisp, bone dry wines from the Basque coast should be on everyone’s lips, both literally and figuratively.

There’s no point trying to find safe ground in the grape varieties instead – Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza hardly trip off the tongue either.

Don’t panic about that alarming “Tx” combination, just ask for a glass of “Cha-koli” and enjoy the traditional high-pouring demonstration that shows off these lively, spritzy wines to best effect.


It’s not just those Europeans across the channel who can confound English-speakers – beware those proud Gaelic speakers of Scotland and their whisky, itself an anglicised version of “uisce beatha”, or “water of life”.

You’re relatively safe in Speyside, where it’s easy to see why names such as Balvenie, Macallan and Glenlivet have been so warmly embraced by whisky lovers around the world. Dabble in the wild west, however, and your footing can be less certain than a tourist in a peat bog.

First you’ve got to navigate Islay itself: ignore that “s” and the “y” too; it’s “eye-la”. Once there, ease yourself in with a wee dram of Ardbeg or Bowmore before tackling Bruichladdich (Brook-laddie), Bunnahabhain (Boona-ha-van) and Caol Ila (Cull Eela)

With these cornerstones secure, it’s time to venture into the special expressions, which inevitably embrace Gaelic names, such as Ardbeg Uigeadail (Oog-a-dal) and Bunnahabhain Toiteach (Torch-shack). After a dram or two of those, you may well find your pronunciation fears melting away. Slàinte mhath!

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