Welcome to The Real World: Ordering Wine Without Fear

By Bruce Matsunaga

"good wine is a good familiar creature" -Shakespeare

This is a tutorial designed to aid anyone who wants to overcome their fear of ordering wine at a restaurant or just wants to know more about the ritual etiquette that takes place when ordering wine. The learner will develop a knowledge of wine ordering etiquette, be able to use the correct pronunciation of different wines and common terms, and come to an understanding of what wine to choose. You may proceed in a linear fashion or jump to the section you are interested in. Cheers!

Pronunciation and Terms

This is often the most intimidating problem facing the prospective wine buyer. Let's face it, if you're American you probably didn't learn or remember French pronunciation, but if you're lucky you have at least a semester or two of some Romantic language under your belt. Don't worry though, you can fake it if you don't. I have listed a short list of words and terms that you might want to know. Yes, there will be a quiz!

Amontillado (Ah-MOHN-tee-YAH-doe) - A medium Sherry. Perhaps a favorite of E.A. Poe.

Appellation Contrôlée or A.C. (Ah-pel-ah-syohN cohn-troh-LAY) - The French quality control designation.

Barolo (Ba-ROE-loe) - Nebbiolo-based red wine from the Piemonte of Northwestern Italy, similar to Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. They can be wonderfully complex, but beware of inexpensive ones.

Beaujolais (Boe-zho-lay) - A refreshingly light and fruity red from Southern Burgundy in France.

Beerenauslese (BARE-ehn-OWS-lay-zeh) - You guessed it, a German classification for a very high quality sweet wine. Each grape is individually picked very late in the harvest.

Bordeaux (Bore-DOH) - A major wine region of Southwestern France. Known for producing some of the best red wines in the world. Primary red wine grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Also known for producing excellent Sauternes.

Bourgogne (Boor-GON-yeh) - The French spelling for "Burgundy."

Cabernet Franc (Cab-air-nay FrahN) - A lesser Cabernet, it tends to give lighter colored, softer wines than Cabernet Sauvignon. It is usually used in blends for its blackcurrant and earthy fruit.

Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab-air-nay So-veen-yawN) - One of the noblest red wine grapes, it is the single most famous varietal. It is grown in most every wine producing country in the world. It is used both as a 100% varietal or blended as in Bordeaux and in California Meritage.


Champagne (Sham-pain) - Sparkling wine, and a wine region of France. All true Champagne is from this region of France and uses the Champagne Method of a second fermentation to produce bubbles.

Chardonnay (Shar-doe-nay) - The most famous of the white wine grapes, Chardonnay was first recognized in Burgundy for its complexity and price. There are also two distinct styles of Chardonnay both in the United States and abroad: rich fruit with substantial oak, and a more austere flinty style.

Château (Shot-toe) - The French term for "Castle," it generally denotes a single vineyard.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Shot-toe-noof duh Pop) - A region of Rhône in France, near Avignon where the AC designation was first used in 1923. Domaine-bottled wines are very good, with very nice reds. There are 13 different varieties of grapes grown there.

Claret (CLARE-it) - An English term for red Bordeaux.

Fumé Blanc (Foo-may BlahN) - A California name given to Sauvignon Blanc.

Gewürztraminer (Geh-VERTZ-trah-mee-nur) - The German white wine with the tough name and spicy taste.

Haut-Médoc (Oh May-dawk) - Another French appellation, most of which is not classified, so there can be variation. In general, the area produces good, fairly tannic, somewhat earthy wines.


Hermitage (Air-mee-tahj) - This appellation in the northern Rhône is known for its huge, stellar Syrahs and its apricot Viogniers. Hold on to the Syrahs for a few years.

Malbec (Mahl-bek) - A red wine grape typically used in Bordeaux/Meritage style blends.

Merlot (Mare-low) - A red wine grape used heavily in Bordeaux/Meritage blends and bottled alone. Once Cabernet Sauvignon's little brother, it has become extremely popular because of its early drinking style of smooth tannins and bright fruit.

Pauillac (Pow-yahk) - An appellation in the Médoc region of France that produces some of the world's best red wines. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, these wines can age for ten years and still captivate the senses with their distinctive blackcurrant fruit.

Pinot Noir (Pee-noe Nwahr) - One of the noble varieties, it has called Burgundy its home but is now starting to find recognition in the Pacific Northwest and California. A tricky grape to grow because of its thin skins, it is susceptible to climactic changes and quality can vary greatly from vintage to vintage.

Zinfandel (Zin-fahn-DELL) - This tough and hearty grape has recently shown its greatness in California incarnations. Not to be confused with White Zinfandel, red Zin is big and bold, with jammy fruit and a lasting finish. Still quite an excellent buy.

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