© 2000 by Hoke Harden
Disclaimer: You might take some of these origins with a grain of salt, as they are not assiduously researched and documented for accuracy, and may be more myth than fact. Even so, they make good trivia.
Chateau Latour, Pauillac Named after the small stone tower that serves as the estate symbol. Latour means "the tower".
Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, the justly famed Pauillac estate, could be translated as Rothschild's Sheep House. Usually isn't. Could be, though. Mouton is French for sheep.
Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, St. Julien One of the better classified growth Bordeaux, a "Super Second", Ducru-Beaucaillou has a lovely, pebbly stream running through the property. "Beaucaillou" means "beautiful pebbles".
Chateau Beychevelle Another Medoc Bordeaux, Beychevelle purportedly received its name from the sailing ships coming down the Gironde Estuary. They customarily lowered their sails as they passed the estate. The French cry for "Lower Sails" is "Basse Voile". Eventually this became Beychevelle.
Urziger Wurzgarten, Mosel This vineyard is so named because of an iron-rich pocket at the bend of the Mosel near the town of Urzig that produces noticeably spicy wines. "Wurzgarten" translates as "Spice Garden".
Wehlener Sonnenuhr and Zeltinger Sonnuhr, of course are famous for the large sundials in their vineyards, which by some accounts were placed there so workers in the vineyards would know when it was time to break for the day. Sonnenuhr means "sundial".
Graacher Himmelreich is next door to Wehlen. "Himmelreich" = Kingdom of Heaven. (Most German vineyards were at one time owned by the church, hence religious names abound.)
Chambertin, one of the most famous vineyard plots in the world, is named after a peasant! A peasant named Bertin cultivated a piece of land which became known locally as "Champs Bertin", or "field of Bertin".
There's been an awful lot of argument over the years about how the Cotes d'Or, that reknowned stretch of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines that defines Burgundy, got named as such. One group insists the name, which seems to translate as "hillsides of gold", refers to the golden color of the vineyard covered slopes in autumn. A more practical group believes the name refers to the financial aspects, and "slopes of gold" is all about revenue generation. I'd put my money on the third version: All those golden sloping vineyards face east, which in French is "Orient", or Cotes d'Orient, which over time got shortened to Cotes d'Or. Voila!
Chablis Grand Cru Les Grenouilles Les Grenouilles is a prestigious Grand Cru Chablis. It is also the home of quite a few frogs - hence, Les Grenouilles.
Liebfraumilch, the famous Rhine blend, took its name from the "original" producer, the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of the Holy Mother) near Worms. Hence the name Liebfraumilch-"Milk of the Blessed Mother".
Zeller Schwarze Katz, the well-known German Mosel wine, is from the small town of Zell. Apparently, at one time there was a black cat hanging around the cellar. Another lesser-known oddity is a bottle showing a zaftige mother whaling away on the naked backside of a young boy. It's called Krover Nacktarsch, or "bare bottom".
Here's a tongue twisting name, and maybe one of the longest (but once you learn it, it has kind of a nice flow to it): Staatliche Weinbaudomane Schloss Bockelheimer Kupfergrube Kabinett, Nahe. Let's try that phonetically: STAHT-litch VIGHN-baow-doh-mane SCHLOHS BACH-ul-high-mur KOOP-fur-groo-buh KAHB-ee-net NAH-huh. Hard to say; easy to drink.
The founder of Clos du Bois had a healthy and active sense of humor when it came time to name his winery. "Clos" is French for a small enclosed place; "Bois" is French for woods or forest. The owner's name was Frank Woods, so the delightful play on words can either be translated as "The Small Enclosure in the Forest", or "Frank Woods' Little Vineyard".
What's the difference between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Fumé Blanc? Nothing official in this country, just the winemaker's style. Same thing for Syrah and Shiraz in America and Australia - Syrah is connotative of the French Rhone style; Shiraz connotes the Australian style. But you can call it whatever you wish in the U.S.A., so I wouldn't trust the name as being either one or the other.
My personal favorite story - sadly, probably apocryphal - is of a retailer who bought several thousand cases of cheap California wine, then named it Chateau Cache-Phloe. The symbol on the label was a grape cluster - except the grapes were pennies and the leaves were crumpled up dollar bills. Phonetically, the name would be rendered "Cash Flow". Sold pretty respectably, I was told.
Egri Bikaver of Hungary is made near the town of Eger. The wine, a robust and full-colored red, is named "Bikaver" (Bull's Blood). A variation on the theme is the Spanish Catalonian "Sangre de Toro" from Torres. Again "Blood of the Bull". On the theme of blood, let's mention that great varietal, Sangiovese, the "Blood of Jove". And from the French we get the wine term saignée, a process of "bleeding off" about 15 percent of red wine juice to intensify fruit flavors.
As well as blood, eyes feature in wine names. Another name for the Tempranillo of Spain is Ull de Lebre, "eye of the hare". Then there's a style of rosé called Oeil de Perdrix - "eye of the partridge".
Gewürztraminer was originally just Traminer. But this distinctive varietal became so well known for its aromatic and spicy qualities, it became known as "Spicy Traminer". "Gewürz" in German means "spicy".
L'Ecole 41 is a small but prized winery in the Walla Walla appellation of eastern Washington. The headquarters is a refurbished old country schoolhouse - Schoolhouse 41. "L'Ecole" is French for school. And the engaging and attractive label features a crayon drawing of said schoolhouse done by the proud founder's granddaughter.
Chateau Trottevielle, an estate in St. Emilion, is named after the ancient pathway that winds through the property. "Trotte" = pathway or walkway. "Vielle" = old.
The name Amarone, most famous of the red dried grape wines of Italy, is derived from "Amaro," the Italian word for bitter. One of the sought after characteristics of this wine is a slight, refreshing aroma and aftertaste of bitter almonds. A sweeter version is called Recioto - the name is derived from picking the ripest grapes off the "ear" of the cluster, the "orechia".
The Napa winery Far Niente is derived from the Italian phrase "Dolce far niente". Loosely translated, that means "How sweet it is to be without a care." And their dessert wine is the aptly named "Dolce" - Italian for sweet.
There is a wine called "Lemburger" (or Limburger), derived from the same town that is renowned for its highly odorous Limburger cheese. No, the wine doesn't smell like the cheese. Actually, it's a nice, very drinkable, light to medium bodied red. The best U.S. producers are in Washington state.
The family of Pinot grapes - Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris - refers to the characteristic pine-cone shape of the grape clusters. Pinot Noir (French), Pinot Nero (Italian), Spatburgunder (German) all refer to the red varietal. Pinot Blanc (French), Pinot Bianco (Italian), Pinot Blanco (Latin), Pinot Gris (French), Pinot Grigio (Italian) all refer to various white offshoots of Pinot. "Gris/Grigio" is gray - not for the wine, but for the characteristic look of the grapes in the vineyards.
Cain Five is a California Meritage-style wine which contains all five authorized Bordeaux reds in its blend. However, Jekel Vineyards Sanctuary is the only California Meritage wine produced from all five Bordeaux reds growing in one estate vineyard site. The vineyard is named Sanctuary because it is a tiny valley that gives sanctuary from the high winds and cold temperatures of the Salinas Valley floor.
Meritage may have the honor of being the most mispronounced American wine word. The official pronunciation designated by the Meritage Society is "MEHR-uh-tij", but common usage increasingly accepts the wrong but Francophilic version, "mehr-ih-TAHZH." Ironically appropriate, if you consider that Meritage was created as an American version of a classic Bordeaux blend.
In the Campania region of Italy, there are a couple of delicious wines with interesting names. There's Greco di Tufo (the Greek grape in volcanic soil) and Lachryma Christi (Tears of Christ). From another part of Italy, a dubious story tells of a wine-bibbing prelate sending his emissary to scout out his route to Rome with an order to find the best inn for wine in each village and mark it Est, "This is it". The pathfinder purportedly got so excited at one place he marked the door "Est! EST!! EST!!!"
The venerable firm of Fratelli Bolla has an interesting collection of proprietary names for its Special Reserve Series of Veneto wines. Their Le Poiane Valpolicella Classico is named after the tiny hawks that nest in the hilltop vineyards. Tufaie Soave Classico is named for the tufaceous (friable volcanic) soil in that vineyard. The Colforte Merlot is named after the old fortified tower on the hill (col = hill, forte = fort). The Creso Cabernet Sauvignon is named after the richest King in antiquity, Croesus. And their Arcale Reserve Pinot Grigio is named after Arcale - Rainbow or Arch.
During the glory days of Greece, when toga parties were the norm, the favorite "parlor game" was kottybos. A simple game, really. Place a large bowl in the middle of the room, and then have everyone compete by spitting in the bowl. One assumes distance, accuracy and volume were important. Most accurate spitter wins. Those old Greeks were pretty sophisticated guys, and evidently knew how to party. Although it must be said that it was common practice in Greece to water the wine in polite society. Of course, the wine was probably deeply concentrated, thick and sweet. And the Greeks consumed wine as a social lubricant, not to get drunk. Everything in moderation.
Travelling in Greece? Consider retsina. In pre-bottle days of the Classic Ages, wine was stored and carried in goatskin leather bags. Too keep the wine from seeping through the skin and stitching the inside of the bag was lined with pitch (resin), which flavored the wine. The Greeks got used to it; after the bottle came about, they added the resin to their wine. Retsina. It's an acquired taste.
Interesting names abound in Burgundy. Here's a few with their derivations:
Pommard got its name from Pomone, the Goddess of Gardens and Fruit. Pommard Rugiens refers to the deep red color of the wine. The Romans were influential in this area, hence we have St. Romain and Vosne-Romanee. A small vineyard allowed to use the revered Chambertin name is Griottes-Chambertin. Griottes are wild cherries.
It's all in the accent: gravelly soil is prized in different wine regions---just pronounced differently: in Bordeaux, it's Graves (GRAHV). In Burgundy, it's Beaune-Greves (GREHV).
The French love saints' names. Just look at a map and you'll see hundreds of them. In wine, as well. The most widespread and frequent is Saint-Martin, the patron saint of France. You'll also find numerous mention of Saint Vincent as well, since he's the patron saint of wine (but the French don't usually mention that Saint Vincent was Spanish).
The irrepressible and talented Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon not only makes good wine, but uses some whimsical names as well, more as an homage than a rip-off. He made a wine in the style of French Chateauneuf-du-Pape and named it to honor one of his favorites domaines, Vieux Telegraphe. He named his new world version Old Telegram. His original effort in the Rhone style was named Le Cigare Volante, and pictured a cigar shaped UFO on the label, alluding to the French passing a law forbidding flying saucers to land in their vineyards!?! When it came time to make a rose version, his obvious choice was "Vin Gris de Cigare". "Vin Gris" means "grey wine", but is the French term for a light rose or pink wine. One of his latest efforts is Il Pescatore ("the fisherman" in Italian), with the label depicting a fisherman sitting on a dock with his line in the water. And of course there is the ever-memorable Cardinal Zin.
In Washington state, one of the more popular boutique wineries is Cavatappi Cellars ("Cavatappi" is corkscrew in Italian). The label is simple and white, and looks as if a careless someone sat a glass stained with red wine on the label.
More Germans (what can I say, they've got great names): Several vineyards are named Jesuitengarten, which translates as The Jesuits' Garden. At one time, virtually all vineyards were owned by the church, so there are naturally many religious names. In Winkel there is a vineyard called Hasensprung, or "leaping rabbit". In Piesport there's the famous Goldtropfchen, "tiny drops of gold", and in Trittenheim there's the Apotheke vineyard, so-called because the original owner was a druggist (apothecary).
In the Franconia area of Germany, the tradtional bottle is similar to the familiar Mateus Rosé bottle. But in Germany it's called a "bocksbeutel", or "goat's bottle". Before glass, wine carriers were made of goatskin and were said to resemble a goat's (ahem) private parts.
Back to Italy and one of the grapes from the Piedmont, a light, cherry-fresh wine called Dolcetto. The name means "little sweet one", although, curiously enough, the wine is not sweet at all.
The French have an expression for really bad wine. It's called three-man wine. It takes three men to drink it, two to hold another one down and force him to swallow.
Italy was so highly thought of for wine, in early history the Greeks called it Oenotria, the land of wine.
Think wine is made from grapes? Don't forget wines made from plum, apricot, peach, pineapple, dates, cherry, blackberry, raspberry, jalapeño (yes, it's true), garlic (yes, that's true too), dandelion, and watermelon. In fact any fruit with a little sugar in it can be fermented into wine. But one should probably ask Why? first.
Aug. 2, 2000
HOKE HARDEN has been in the wine business for many years and has heard just about all the old stories about wine.