Raymond Blake spares some blushes with his cheat’s guide to pronouncing the names of famous vineyards
It is the most celebrated white wine vineyard on earth, where mere scraps of land, handkerchief-sized plots that are home to no more than a few rows of vines, sell for prices equivalent to tens of millions of euro per hectare. Alexandre Dumas revered the wine it produced so highly that he said it should be drunk kneeling and with one’s head bared, yet few people are able to pronounce its name correctly.
I speak of Montrachet, whose name derives from the elision of two words: Mont (hill) and Rachet (bald or bare). It’s pronounced ‘Mohn-rash-ay’ and even non-wine-drinking French people are tripped up by it, for, if the normal rules applied, that first ‘t’ should be pronounced rather than slid over. But now you know better and, while you are at, hit that ‘a’ with a good rattle as you go past, emphasising it over the other two syllables and giving it plenty of ‘rrr’ to begin.
Montrachet isn’t the only Burgundy vineyard to present pronunciation problems. Many vineyards there are named as ‘ABC’ Dessus and ‘ABC’ Dessous, meaning upper and lower, or above and below. The ‘us’ in the first is pronounced with lips pursed and a sharp ‘ooh’ – ‘Dess-ooh’ – like you have just caught a bad smell, while the ‘ous’ in the second is softer and more drawn out. I confess that I have yet to master the difference. Perhaps an equivalent difficulty to a French ear is picking up the minor difference in pronunciation between ‘dessert’ and ‘desert’.
I used to pronounce the capital of the Champagne region, Reims, as ‘Reems’ until I took note of the baffled looks from French people and asked for guidance. Say ‘Rance’ with a good roll on the ‘R’ and you won’t be far wrong. This one is so counter- intuitive that it helps if you think of it as France without the ‘F’.
France is not the only country to throw up pronunciation challenges. South Africa, where the Afrikaans language derives from Dutch, presents the neophyte with a veritable Grand National of hurdles. The Uitkyk estate near the Simonsberg Mountains trips most first-timers but once you get it, it’s a doddle: ‘Ate-cake’.
Buitenverwachting in Constantia is a leader in Sauvignon Blanc production and takes a little time to get your tongue around. Say ‘Baten-fur-vacht-ing’ and don’t give that final ‘ing’ too much ring-a-ding, it sits halfway between ‘in’ and ‘ing’. It’s easier after a glass of Sauvignon. Boekenhoutskloof in Franschhoek looks similarly daunting but what you see is what you say.
Klein Constantia is easy enough but don’t forget that, because Klein derives from Dutch and not German, it is pronounced ‘Klane’ and not ‘Kline’. Perhaps the trickiest of all is the deceptively simple looking Sijnn, producer of new-wave Syrah in Malgas, well removed from the Stellenbosch heartland of the South African wine industry. Is it ‘Sin’ or ‘Sij-in’ or ‘Sine’? It’s none of the above, it’s simply ‘Sane’.