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How to Talk Like a Pro

March 3, 2015

I’m Afraid to Say That Out Loud!

A good place to start is the proper pronunciations of your favorite varieties and regions.

The names of most grapes have their origins in Europe, and if like me, your formal training involved one year of High School French, you might need some expert advice.

  1. People in the know like to share their knowledge. Ask the manager of your local wine shop, your restaurant server, or your host in a Paso area tasting room how they pronounce a wine or wine region. It’s often smarter to ask an honest question than to wing it.
  2. Your computer knows. You can “Google” any word followed by “pronunciation” and receive not only a phonetic spelling but often a recorded pronunciation as well.

Here are a few challenging pronunciations in the Paso Robles appellation:

Viognier: “VEE – ohn – yay”

Mourvedre: “More-VED-ruh”

And what about Paso Robles? Is it “Paso Row – bulls”  or “Pah – so  Row – bless”. Let’s make it easy… just say Paso!


These words are often used to help describe one of the main things that make a particular wine unique-  where it’s from!

Terroir: “tehr – wahr” – A French term that combines all those special characteristics that encompass geography, geology, climate, and some say, the people.

American Viticultural Area (AVA)/Appellation – is a legally defined (by the US Government) and protected geographical boundary used to identify where winegrapes are grown.

Estate – Once used to identify that the winegrapes in a particular wine were all grown on the winery’s property, this term now has a more broad meaning to include land or vineyards that the winery controls via a long-term lease. What is still important is that the winegrapes must be crushed and bottled at the winery.

You Talking to Me?
When tasting at a winery, you may hear some of these terms:

Dry – Not sweet. A dry wine is basically a wine that does not have any residual sugar (RS) left over from fermentation. Most wine in Paso Robles is dry!

Bright / Racy / Refreshing – These are used to describe a wine with a higher acid. Mostly evident in white wines and rosés that have not gone through Malolactic (see below) fermentation. If you take a sip and it makes your mouth salivate, it’s bright.

Chalky / Gripping / Chewy – These are used to describe Tannin in a wine, which is typically associated with mouth feel. Tannin can occur naturally because of the type of wine (Mourvedre and Cabernet Sauvignon are known for their Tannins versus Pinot Noir or Grenache) or it can be obtained from the oak it is aged in.

Velvety / Smooth / Silky – These are used to describe the mouth feel and sensation that the wine has in your mouth!

Neutral Oak – Simply said, this is an oak barrel with no more oak to give. Oak in wine is typically compared to a chef’s spice rack, adding nuance and complexity to wine. Typically a red wine barrel lends these qualities to a wine for three vintages. After that, it is considered neutral and is a perfect vessel to use when a winemaker wants to let the variety do all its talking.

Malolactic Fermentation – Or “Malo” as it can be referred to, is a stage of fermentation that a wine can go through after the primary fermentation of converting sugar to alcohol. This stage converts tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in the leftover grape skins (must), is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid. Simply put, this is the difference between a bright wine and creamy wine. Not all white wines go through Malo, most red wines do.

Whole Cluster Fermentation – This means that the winemaker left the stems on the clusters. Why? Well, it’s probably either Syrah or Pinot Noir that you are tasting and it adds a level of tannin and structure to a wine that the winemaker felt would benefit the wine.

Vintage – The calendar year that that particular wine’s fruit was harvested in. A non-vintage wine simply means that there is a blend of vintages.

Library Wine – This is a wine that is no longer part of the winery’s current release list and has been “cellared” or stored away. If you are tasting a library wine in the tasting room, either the winemaker is pouring and wants to see how it’s aging, or the tasting room must really like you!
We hope this helps you better navigate Paso Robles Wine Country, but when in doubt, don’t be shy. Ask!